I’ve been teaching in our building long enough now for the “older” children to recognize me and they often stop me for a hug or a comment. One of the second graders brought me a heart yesterday that said “I love you”. Sweet. And it made me wonder about how some of my students will think of me, or if they will think of me at all, in twenty years.
I don’t remember my kindergarten teacher. Not surprising since I went to so many schools. I do remember making an igloo out of sugar cubes! Does anyone use those anymore? Can you even buy them? My kindergarten teacher must have at least been creative.
My second grade teacher was so young that it’s difficult to pick her out in our class photo. I don’t remember much about her except that she was cheerful.
Most of the teachers I remember are from the fifth grade and beyond. I’m sure you can remember that first junior-high English teacher who introduced you to “writer’s block” by assigning a paper entitled either “How I Spend My Summer Vacation” or “My Life Story”. Mine was Mrs. Kennington. She was tall and rather plump and she wore simple, dark, shirt-waist dresses. Her hair was brown and drab with lots of gray streaks in it and she kept it pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. She had thick glasses with heavy black frames and she had a rather disdainful way of looking down through the bottom of them when she stood next to my desk. I suppose if I had been wiser I would have known she wore bifocals. She also wore a long chain around her neck and at the end of it was a huge clump of keys and a shiny whistle. She blew the whistle every time someone misbehaved on the playground. Since someone was always misbehaving on the playground, we grew to hate the sound of that whistle. But Mrs. Kennington made sure I learned about grammar. She was adamant about diagramming sentences, and she abhorred poor spelling. I guess I owe her a “thank you” and I hope she isn’t looking down from heaven and shaking her head over my sentence fragments.
Mr. Kennedy dressed in a suit and had a gravelly voice. On cold days he wore a long trench coat. He reminded me of a detective, but he taught eighth grade English. He believed in my writing talent from the very first week of school. He loved my stories and arranged for me to attend an author’s tea and autograph party. I don’t even remember who the author was, but I determined that very day that I would always write. Whenever I’m especially pleased with a piece of work I still think of him.
There are other teachers who made enough of an impression to stay in my memory. A business teacher convinced me that I wasn’t “too dumb to handle money”. A math teacher stayed after school each day to drag me through geometry. A home economics teacher taught me skills that I still use today. A music teacher had faith in me and convinced me to sing my first solo. An art teacher introduced me to the joy of painting. And of course there are a few bad examples of the teaching profession in my memories. One math teacher was fired for pushing my classmate over a trash can. A science teacher teased me constantly and even swatted me on the behind with a ruler. A social studies teacher was so boring I was nearly comatose in his class. Most of my teachers were ordinary people just doing their job. Each of them- good, bad, or outstanding- contributed to who I am. Each of them taught me something about being a student and about being an adult.
I guess what I hope for my own career is that I will be that “outstanding” teacher for at least a few students. I hope I enable some of my students to follow their dreams. I hope I’m remembered fondly by one of them twenty or thirty years from now.