Monday, July 27, 2009

Thank a Teacher

My Facebook friends have inspired me tonight (Lisa, Kim, Jana, Sandra, Angie, and Kelley among others) to write a quick thank you note. You are living the life that I thought I wanted to live once upon a time. You are inspiring young minds and are planting seeds of knowledge, tolerance, encouragement, love, determination, discipline, and hope. And it's a very important calling.

I say it is a calling because if you go into teaching for the money...or the time off...or because it was the fastest way out of won't last. But you have obviously been called, and I think that's awesome.

All of us have "teacher testimonials" and I'm going to share a few of mine. I don't know if the people that taught me thought much about who I was among the masses of children that came their way every day. But, it is far easier working the other way around, isn't it?

Nursery school - sometime around 1966: According to my mother, I was quite the handful. Shocking, yes? Because a teacher saw some intelligence in me (or was desperate to get me away from the other children...doesn't matter), I was taught to read by phonics records at age 3. My mother read to me a lot, and my grandmother and great-aunt gave me books as a child that I still own. Their inscriptions are in the covers. I'm still an avid reader.

1st Grade - I had the most wonderful teacher - Mrs. Simmons - at St. Andrews Episcopal School in Jackson, MS. Everybody wanted her, and by some lucky twist of fate, I ended up in her classroom. I'm sure that I learned a lot, but the three most vibrant memories included a Christmas party at her house, realizing that math didn't come as easy as reading, and Dooney Tickner getting to hand out paper towels on the last day of school because we went alphabetically. I swore then that I would marry up the alphabet as a result (and I did.)

2nd Grade - Had a beautiful teacher, Miss Wills, who was kind when I broke a cardinal rule unintentionally. Although I was trying to make a classmate who had been held back feel better by complimenting Mrs. Simmons (his "new" teacher)...Sharon Mason told on me. I forgave her because her family used to take me to Sunday School at their church. My punishment (Miss Wills let me choose it) was that I'd miss show-and-tell for two weeks. I thought it was fair.

3rd Grade - This was a split year because my parents went to do an off-Broadway play during the Fall, and Mom didn't want to move me to Thomaston yet, so I stayed in Jackson with a family I knew. I suppose I was a little stressed out knowing that my parents were gone and were about to be divorced, but I had a teacher who made me practice my penmanship over and over because I kept running the letters together. Today, I have nice handwriting...which I credit to my teacher. This was also the year that the police officers came to the school and begged us to stay off of drugs. I was listening.

The second half of the year, I had Mrs. Grace Hawkes, who was one of the sweetest ladies I knew. She was amazed at how fast I read and went through the SRA 4th and 5th grade to keep me busy (or was she just afraid that if I got through it would not be good). She never failed to mention it to me every time she saw me - even into her 90s. Lynn Hunter and I were allowed to do backbends and flips the last few minutes of the day from time to time, and the song "Wide World" by Cat Stevens still reminds me of Lynn and of Mrs. Hawkes.

I did send her a letter thanking her for the encouragement about a year ago, and I am glad that I did. She died recently...the same week as Mr. Hugo Starling who led the singing for the 3rd through 5th grade at First United Methodist Church in Thomaston. I still know that hymn 153 in the Cokesbury hymnal is "Love, Mercy and Grace" and hymn 121 is "Church in the Wildwood."

4th Grade - I had Mrs. Crawley - who also drove me to school every morning because she lived one street over and my mother was working in Atlanta. She let me play with the guinea pig and encouraged me to study harder in science because beyond the solar system, I really wasn't that interested. She made us do labs in a standard format. She was downright picky about the "hypothesis" - a word that I can spell thanks to her. She made me think about organizing data in a standard manner...a habit I still have.

I had English with Mrs. Joyce Kendall, and loved the word search puzzles that she would give us to do as a treat if we finished our work. She didn't take kindly to a smart mouth at all (trust me on this). She also turned out to be my grandmother's best friend in her final three years of angel that we cannot ever fully repay. In her work with the assisted living facility, she kept my grandmother from entering nursing home care until it was absolutely impossible to avoid, and she treated her with such love and respect that she gave us something you cannot buy...peace of mind.

5th Grade - Mrs. Pennyman was an Olympic gold medalist, and even brought in the medal for us to see. She was also the teacher who sent me for a paddling along with three other culprits for propelling butter beans across the table off of the end of our forks during lunch. I won't elaborate.

6th Grade - I joined Beginner Band and Mr. Web - in his platform shoes - actually seemed impressed that I had tried the clarinet part in "Hawaii 5-0" and made me want to practice more. I also sold mega amounts of band candy and probably laid the baseline cellulite during these years (followed up by "Introduction to Big Chic" in 7th grade and "McDonald's...the Reality Series" in 10th). I still love World's Finest Chocolate and will buy it from ANY kid who is selling it. I also won the cake baking contest that year although Lynn Smith's cake was totally prettier...a yellow doll cake. For a kid who had never won anything...this was an incredible honor. I still have the heart shaped pans that I made the cake in...they were retrieved from my grandmother's house when it was boxed up and yes, I did actually make the cake. It had pink icing and my grandmother had plunked a live camellia on it as I was walking out. Why I can remember this...I do not know.

7th Grade - Mrs. Wilson taught us the prepositions in alphabetical order in groups of 10 and tested us on them every few days. I can still recite the list. Wish I were kidding. When my kids had to memorize them, they were stunned that I knew mine. I also remember her telling some story about a rabid squirrel and her husband, but I'll just let that go.

Our geography/history teacher told us to pronounce Iraq as E-ROCK and Iran as E-RON. I couldn't have cared less then...but what do we hear about daily now? Yep. She also wanted us to learn how we got the last names we did...and for those with last names like "SMITH"...this was a "duh" assignment. She thought that "Toner" might have come from "Tuner." Not. It actually comes from a very long difficult to pronounce name that doesn't even start with a "T". Thank you, Ellis Island.

8th Grade - Mrs. Braddy, who was four foot nothing tired of trying to make us learn something in Science. So, she divided the class into "wants to learn" and "does not want to learn." Naturally, I was pleased to be in the "wants to learn" group in a way...but when they all walked out (or got sent to the office...can't remember) was drama, drama, drama.

I also remember that Coach Smith - in response to our telling him that we assumed that our notes only would be on the test instead of what was in the book...gave us a lesson in the definition of the word "assume" complete with lines (ass/u/me). Yeah. He was right, too. I also liked him because as a senior I had the insane idea that I'd try to play basketball (a true overstatement). The others would have to shoot three in a row before they could go. Me? One. Just one. Sometimes I'd be there alone on the free throw line as I was pretty hopeless. But eventually, I got slightly better, allowing me to score one point in a game...naturally...a free throw. In retrospect, we had to be winning by a fairly large margin if I was in that game, and was probably fouled because somebody wanted to take a "real" player out...but whatever.

9th Grade - Mr. Thomas Lilliott gave us vocabulary words every week and I diligently memorized them. It was almost like an awakening and I do believe that because of him I love words and writing as much as I do. Most of the vocabulary I have and use today was learned that year. I know that the football team took great joy in locking him in his closet, and that he eventually opted to quit teaching high school, but from him...I learned.

10th Grade - Mrs. King in World History wore a hearing aid. At least once a week, one of two classmates would go up to her desk and not pronounce every word that they were saying so she thought she was experiencing a malfunction with her hearing aid. Several times, people just got up and walked out after telling her that the bell had rung. This was awful and mean, and for participating in this, I am truly sorry. But at the was truly hilarious. And I believe that at least one of the two biggest perpetrators spent time in jail, and the rest of us blew our eardrums out on AC/DC in the early 1980s, so I'm thinking that Mrs. King is getting the last laugh.

11th Grade - Mr. John Gillespie was the band director for the R. E. Lee Marching Band and the Lee High Singers who was also an original member of Dr. Johnny Long's "Sound of the South" marching band in Troy, Alabama. Ironically, I graduated from Troy State University (now Troy University) and my husband was actually in that band for one semester.

I had absolutely no range as a singer, and was more interested in twirling a baton than practicing my clarinet anymore, but I really respected Mr. G. I did learn a slight appreciation for show tunes and classical music, and I now wonder at how he changed the "show" every week in one week...with the boneheaded high school kids he had to work with each year. My children's school band learns one "show" a year. ONE! (And if I hear Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun" at any point, I cannot be held responsible if I snap.)

12th Grade - Mrs. Watson was our English teacher, and for extra credit (meaning...I was desperate), I spent spring break that year learning the "To be or not to be..." soliloquy from "Hamlet." Egad. But, I was able to get through English 101 and 102 in college with little that was a good thing, right?

In college, because of my two experiences, I cannot really elaborate. My Wesleyan years were two years of non-application on my part, and the Troy years were two years of total immersion in my studies. I don't know if this is still possible to do, but I graduated from Troy summa cum laude because my grade point average from Wesleyan (and other courses) did not transfer and they started over. Hours, yes. Grades, no. Yeah. Amazing what happens when one does not take one's Money and Banking book to study during 3-for-1 drinks at Main Street (in Macon) and instead body slammed anyone speaking above a whisper while studying in the chapter room (in Troy.)

So, friends who are getting ready to go back into the classroom...who are dreading regular hours, no potty breaks, lunch on the go, parents, paperwork, and the new abomination - "mandatory furlough days" - may the Lord be with you...even if you aren't supposed to talk about Him in your classrooms.

And know that among your "flock" there are young people who need what you have to offer - or may be about to teach YOU something. On those days where you wonder why you signed up for this...know that you are special and unique and valuable. Thanks for being you and doing what you do. It really DOES matter.

P.S. And if any of the above scared you into quitting. Don't. :)


  1. Total immersion in studies at Troy? Let me think...

  2. oh, and 10th grade made me spit out my morning coffee. thankfully not all over my computer.