Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thank You One and All

The comments on the stories I posted last week about teaching in New Hampshire back in 1972-1973 have prompted today’s blog. It’s long and you may want to read it in a couple of sessions with a cup of reviving coffee or tea!
            First, let me thank you for reading those postings and for commenting. You complimented me profusely on my teaching style and I appreciate your kind words.
            Second, today I’d like to explore three things: (1) the students in those New Hampshire classes, (2) teachers today, and (3) teachers who help us believe in ourselves.
            (1) None of what I did or tried to do in that classroom would have worked if those students hadn’t been ready for change. They were eager to learn and open to the possibility of themselves. The ground of their being was fertile. Once they accepted my belief in them, they trusted me and were willing to explore the wonder of their own answers, questions, and experiences. They became excited about learning.
            When a teacher reached out to them, the students were ready. They gifted me with their trust. That is the marvel, to me, of those three stories.
            (2) Each day of the school year many fine teachers reach out to students. Those students respond or not—depending on whether their life experiences have let them retain a seed of trust in what adults say to them.
            Some of those teachers—like Deb and Sandi—read this blog. They are, I think, thoughtful, compassionate, patient teachers who respect and encourage their students. Who believe that each new year brings them the opportunity to touch the lives of others and be touched.
            (A sidebar here: All of us teach. Most of you reading this blog are mothers or grandmothers or aunts or uncles. You teach each and every day. In your blogs I often read about your respect and patience and compassion and unstinting support and care for the children in your lives. These stories always inspire me. Reading them, I stand on holy ground.)            
            My mother always said to me, “Dolores, if you look for good in the world, you’ll find it. And if you look for bad, you’re surely find that too.” Most teachers do this. They look for the good in their students.
            When I talk to young people today—the young man who mows my law, grandchildren of friends and family—I learn about the teachers who inspire them and believe in them. So many fine teachers.
            And yet we all know that some teachers are weary and impatient. They seem to look for the bad in others. They themselves bear the scars of not being valued and loved. And so they cannot bring to the children what they do not have. They may see teaching as just another job, not as a calling.
            But my firm belief is that if any child can have just one teacher who believes in her or him--just one--that child has a cherished memory to hold onto for the rest of life.
            (Another sidebar: And that teacher can be mother, father, uncle, aunt, neighbor.)
            We never know what we might say or do or be that touches a child’s life. We can only live, as I said last Thursday, with the attitude that we are on hollowed ground when we engage with others.
            (3) When this happens we can do wonderfully fine things. I’ve had such teachers. The reason I taught well is because I’d been taught well.      
            Sister Corita in 3rd and 4th grades helped me come to grips with asthma. In grades five through seven, Sister Mary McCauley made learning fun. Sister Marian taught us in 8th grade. She read to us each day. I can still remember the book Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan, which she read to us the winter of 1949-50.
            In high school, Sister Mary Edith made Latin II exciting by using the chalkboard to map out the thrust and parry of Caesar’s wars. Sister Mary Rosaria taught us how to engage in conversations on any topic so we could elicit the thoughts of others.
            In college, Sister Scholastica taught me how to write. Sister Juanita shared her love of history and made kings and commoners come alive. Sister Jeanette honored my dreams. Sister John Marie seemed to have a bubble of happiness within in as she taught. Learning became delight in her classroom.
            All these women valued me as a student and as a human being. It is because I was open to their promptings that I became the teacher of last week’s postings. And of course, I had my mother and father who always said to me, “Dolores, you can do anything you set your mind to.” They were my first teachers.
            So today I want to thank you for all your compliments about my teaching. And I want to ask you two questions:
            Which teachers influenced your life for the better?
            Which teachers have reverently touched the lives of your children and grandchildren and neighbors’ children? 


  1. As you said, my parents number one influenced and taught me more than anyone.
    In second place my Aunt. She taught me patience as my algebra teacher and kindness and laughter.
    I also had two teachers in college that believed in me and took the time to find out why I had a hard time learning math and pushed me with my English and writing skills. The other one was a tiny little mousy thing that had a soul full of fire for history. She was the hardest teacher I ever had and she also became a friend and encourager. She gave out 4 A's that year and I received one of them but she made me work for it and smiled when she handed that A over.
    Good teachers are priceless, and it is not just a job for them but a calling as you said.

  2. Beautiful post. I LOVE this line, "If you look for good in the world, you’ll find it. And if you look for bad, you’re surely find that too."

    I had a high school wood shop teacher who changed my life. I cut my thumb in half on a table saw. It was such a bad injury, I had to reteach myself how to play the violin. Anyway, my teacher felt so bad about the injury, he stayed every night after school, just to make me an amazing end table. I remember when he surprised me by giving it to me during class. I cried so hard. It meant the world to me and still does. The Hippie uses it now, and I always tell her that it represents how kind everyone should be.

  3. Oh, Dee. I can't thank you enough for this series of posts. They've helped me remember the holiness of my profession and my calling. Even though there is much I don't like about the state of education (and the world) today, I know I'm called to teach. You've helped me remember that, and to value it in a way I haven't for some time.

  4. Not being nurtured much at home, a few select teachers made all the difference to me...instilled a love of learning...encouraged me to write...allowed me to dance to my different drummer...and talked to me like I was somebody. Those gracious people who touch souls start a chain reaction that they would probably be shocked to truly comprehend. :):)

  5. This was a beautiful post about teachers and the profession.

  6. Oh Dee, again, what a eloquent post of praise and encouragement for all teachers, everywhere. My 5th grade teacher was the one who taught me I would survive. My mom had died suddenly the year before, and we moved when my dad remarried. I began a new school, knowing no one, and when my teacher read my name she looked at me with tears in her eyes, hugged me, and told me she had gone to school with my mom. I felt safe and loved in her classroom, quite different than at home with a new stepmom, who found my siblings and I to be "inconvenient". I've never forgotten Mrs. Riback and it is because of her I wanted to become a teacher.
    Thank you for sending me down a memory path I hadn't thought about in 50 years!

  7. What a lovely post. Credit goes to my parents for having been my mentors and for having set such a good example to my sister and me. It was my own less than perfect teachers who inspired me to become a I could do a better job! I taught for just a few years until we had our son, followed two years later by our daughter. I gave up teaching to fully commit myself to raising our two children and like to think of this as having been my greatest and most rewarding challenge.

  8. Miss Waters, fourth grade. She was the first teacher who treated me like a person of value. She thought I was smart and was always kind to me.

    Miss Hartel, fifth grade. She answered all the crazy questions I had about sex and touching. I realize now she took enormous risks, talking to we three girls about that subject in the 50s. I also realize that the other two girls who made excuses to stay after school and "get Mrs. Hartel to talk," like me, may have been molested and were equally confused and hurting. Miss Hartel helped me through that time without ever knowing what I was experiencing. Perhaps she did the same for them.

    Mrs. Howard, senior year, who got tears in her eyes when I told her I wasn't going to college because there was no money for college and I needed to work to help my family. I loved her for that.

    Mrs. S loved my younger daughter and gave her a wonderful first year in public school.

    Mrs. R. nourished my oldest daughter's love of books, reading and discovery, and taught her to trust her beautiful, amazing, fantastic brain. I will regret to my dying day I did not insist the school district place our younger daughter in Mrs. R's classroom.

    From Mr. H. both daughters received a simultaneously intellectual and down-to-earth introduction to science and math that stands them in good stead to this day. Without his guidance, they might not have enjoyed school and learning so much and become the women they are today.

    Mr. B, well, Mr. B may have saved my daughter's life.

    I give deep gratitude for the lifelong service each of these teachers gave, for very little pay and earthly reward. They are true heroes.

  9. The teacher who most influenced my life was my father! He was an English teacher who taught me to love learning -- every day. He also taught me to respect my teachers and the importance of school and schooling. As a result my siblings and I have a never-ending thirst for knowledge and we have seen this passed down to all of our children without exception! Throughout his life he would receive letters from students who wanted him to know how much he had influenced their lives and how much they owed to him.

    I have so enjoyed reading about your experiences as a teacher -- how fortunate your students were to be there at the right time and the right place!

  10. My favorite English professor had quite an influence on me. His appreciation of my writing meant the world to me.


  11. I had a handful of teachers that made a difference too. What made them different I am asking myself; I think it was that most of them were personally interested in ME. After going to school for 10 years I had a teacher in junior year that insisted that we do homework every night. I had never done homework. He said if we misssed two homework assignments we would fail the class. Well, suddenly I became a good student. That was all it took. he raised the bar..
    I enjoyed all your articles about your teaching career. I read 5 so far. :-)

    Mimi Torchia Boothby