It’s the most flash-backy time of the year. The sine qua non of August is this: adults and children dread and/or joyfully anticipate the return of the school schedule. Even those of us who no longer have school-determined lives still experience the frisson of the back-to-school thing. We remember the smells and the noise and the dread and the excitement. And though the smell of Expo markers has decades-since replaced the smell of chalk, and there are whole academic subject areas that don’t even exist anymore: you know, whatever. Some things you never forget. The more things change, etc.
My memories of school have far less to do with academics than the rest of it–The-Shit-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named–the things you kept to yourself. (You kept it to yourself if you were an introvert, anyway. Don’t know about the rest of you.) There were so many emotions and fears in school, punctuated (thankfully) by the occasional bright spot. I was lucky to have a good, rounded education, so I learned a lot along the way, of course. But who I AM was formed and shaped, willingly and unwillingly, in so many non-lesson-plan ways: by my friendships, and, of course, by my teachers.
So today, our class discussion is on the subject of The Teacher. Let us now praise these famous (and not-so-famous) men and women.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. (Maya Angelou)
First, it must be admitted that some teachers are duds. Let’s get that out of the way. Don’t be sending me rebuttals because you aren’t over middle school. Neither is anybody else. I once had a science teacher who–when he caught me chewing gum–made me stick it on the end of my nose for the duration of the class period. Those teachers may or may not have been doing their best, and aren’t the ones we are discussing here.
I’ve tried teaching. My time in the classroom mostly left me feeling enraged. (It’s not my gift.) But I have been blessed to know many, many people who have the gift of Teacher, and it is a spiritual gift, given by God. Out of my experience with my own teachers, my children’s teachers, and my friends who are teachers, I offer the following, for your consideration:
1. Teachers have brought their whole selves to the work: their personalities, their passions, their feelings, their joys and fears. It is who they are. They are sharing their very selves. It’s not a job, it’s a vocation.
2. Teachers willingly bear many work-related burdens which do not belong to them. It is not their fault (or their job to fix) when a kid is depressed or struggling or defiant or wounded. But teachers fold these factors into themselves (see #1) and into what is needed in class.
3. Teachers are people. They are people, people. They may not be your friend, but if there comes an opportunity to give them a little gift of appreciation (and I hope you do), imagine what a friend would like to receive. Just say no to teacher-themed gifts. (No effing apple-related objets d’art, for starters.) Oh, and by the way: never, never send a teacher a shaming, flaming e-mail. Get over your own authority issues and ask nicely to meet in person.
4. Philosophers and religious folk have a wonderful word for this kind of remembering: anamnesis. I am remembering today some of my childhood teachers that left a formative and permanent mark of acceptance on me. They represent the spectrum of subject matter. I’m pretty sure they all had first names, but I remember them as: Mrs. Kranz, Mrs. Rucker, Mr. Freeman, Mrs. Elsie, Mr. Deffenderfer, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Crisp, Mrs. Hembree, Ms. Davis, Mrs. Buffington… and on and on. Thank you.
PS: Shout-out to my beloved friends returning to the front of the classroom in the coming days. Go get ’em.
PPS: Did you notice how many GRE-worthy words and literary references I have used here, in order to make myself look smart? Teachers taught me those.