“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
My sister recently attended the funeral of a friend’s mother who had been a teacher in our town for many years. My sister’s fourth grade teacher was also at this funeral, and when Joanie saw her, she hugged her and told her, “You were my all-time favorite teacher.”
Imagine that. After forty years, to be told you had made so much of an impression and had such an impact on a person’s life. Of course it’s a teacher’s goal to help every child learn every day, but there are some teachers who stand out, who somehow make us feel special. These are the teachers who ignite our joy for learning, who set us on the path to our future. So in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to recognize the teachers who’ve made the most difference to me.
If we’re lucky, our parents are our first and forever teachers. My parents taught me the value of hard work and instilled a curiosity about the world around me. They have always encouraged and supported my dreams, and I am still learning from them.
Confession time. I was not always a good student. I was much more interested in talking to my friends than listening to the teacher. Today, I would probably be diagnosed with ADHD. But in the 60s, I was told to be quiet and had my desk moved. Because of this, I didn’t see myself as smart, or even that capable. But there were glimmers of hope.
The first hint of possibility came in fourth grade, when Mrs. Mathews read James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and, most importantly, Charlotte’s Web. Thank you, Mrs. Mathews, for introducing me to the book that made me a reader.
Middle school was a long, dry patch. I’m sure I had fine teachers, but none that really stood out. But high school was a different story. Ms. Kazanjian and Mr. Giroux co-taught American history my freshman year, and they opened my eyes in a way that made me want to be a teacher. They also saw something in me that I hadn’t recognized. Their belief in me made me start to believe in myself.
I think I only had Mrs. Bailey for English twice, but she made a lasting impression. I still remember our study of Greek mythology my senior year. Her high expectations and broad knowledge inspired me to dig deeper into subjects, and to keep asking questions.
By the time I was in college, I was fairly confident about my ability as a learner, but there is always more to learn. I was so fortunate to have had three English professors at Western Connecticut State University who expanded my horizons in ways I still feel today. Dr. Jambeck unlocked the mysteries of the English language and entertained us with her peerless Middle English reading of The Canterbury Tales. Judy Sullivan brought passion and joy into the classroom everyday. It makes me smile to think of her, quoting Shakespeare and then grinning and telling us, “See, there’s nothing new under the sun.” Finally, Dr. Pruss, with her probing questions and insights, helped me understand the power of poetry.
We may never know the true impact we have on our students’ lives. But I hope that I bring the same passion and joy to the classroom each day that these fine teachers brought with them. I also hope that I take the time, as they did, to look beyond a klutzy, awkward chatterbox to see the potential beneath the surface, then help her see it too.
Thank you all, for helping me become who I am today.
Thank you to Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. You are all teachers I continue to learn from, and appreciate your dedication and generosity. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.