Thursday, May 6, 2010

Teacher Appreciation Week

The national PTA has designated May 2-8 as Teacher Appreciation Week, and with each passing year I come to appreciate teachers more and more. My classes are largely composed of preservice teachers, and part of my job is to serve as the university's liaison to a local high school. So I see how much teachers these days are expected to juggle, and I am regularly humbled by how much work they do, under so many constraints and demands, with such inspiration and determination. Frankly, I wouldn't last a week.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend that turned toward stories about former teachers, and I said that I felt increasingly lucky and grateful that I can only think of one truly awful teacher I had in elementary school. My friend looked astonished, and after a pause, said, "You don't know how lucky that is." There were several real clunkers in high school, but by that point you're not spending all day every day with a single teacher, and you generally have like-minded friends to compare notes with and provide some perspective.

So, I thought I'd take a moment to publicly thank some of the teachers I've had who inspired me, nurtured me, challenged me, and generally did their jobs well (and, I imagine, with very little thanks).

First up is my first-grade teacher, Molly Palsgrove (later Molly Davis). She was fresh out of college and we were her first class, though you'd never have known that by the grace, intelligence, and gentle authority she showed in the classroom.

I still remember learning the "McDonald's is your kind of place/They serve you rattlesnakes" song from her, and recall the mock presidential election we held (to parallel the McGovern/Nixon race), with classmate Michael Meckler as our candidate. (For the record, I still think Meckler '72 was probably the strongest ticket.)

When our class entered fifth grade, Miss Palsgrove switched to teaching that grade, so many of us had the pleasure of having her again. That year, she taught us a dance to The Osmonds' "Down By the Lazy River" that's still built into my muscle memory.

The year our class graduated from high school, Miss Palsgrove (by then Mrs. Davis) was named the Ohio Teacher of the Year. I went to visit her at Cassingham Elementary several years ago, and remarkably, she looked exactly the same, even in her 30-something-eth year of teaching. And she still interacted with students in the same loving, firm, but playful manner that she always had. I feel blessed that my public-school experience had such an auspicious beginning.

I was equally lucky in my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Arlene Robinson. More seasoned than Miss Palsgrove, she too had mastered that fine balance between rigor and compassion. She was a lover of language, and from her (and for her) I learned to write for pleasure. As I continued through elementary school, I would still put poems and stories in her mailbox, and she would return them to me with comments and encouragement.

There are many others: in high school, Mike Logsdon, the biology teacher I've written about here before stands out, as does Isobel Inglis, my French teacher. Not until college did I realize that pretty much everything I knew about European history, I learned from Miss Inglis--not in an actual history class. And I will always be grateful to Miss Bowling, my geometry teacher, for being the lone math teacher who didn't make me feel stupid.

Unfortunately, it's only in hindsight that we realize just how profoundly teachers influenced us. So, to all of these folks and the many others not named here, I say a very belated thank you. Then and now, you do what you do with little compensation and even less gratitude, and with far too much pressure and criticism.


Susan D'E said...

Great, Rosemary! I'm having trouble remembering standout details like yours, but am thankful for all the teachers who gently helped me along and quietly prepared me to hold my own at a college where many students came from much ritzier schools.

Having kids, I appreciate teachers, even the mediocre ones, more than ever. I especially thank Ms. Corazzini, who would stay at school well after hours to talk to us and provided extra work for my daughter when she had moved beyond the 1st grade curriculum. All this while her own 7 year old daughter was battling cancer.

Ms. Schiavoni sounds like your first grade teacher. She inspired all students in her quiet way. I would often see her working hard after 5:00 pm when I picked up my daughter from afterschool. And she always had time to chat with me. Even when she moved to a different school, she always remembered my daughter, and even sent her a note when one of Sophia's poems was published in a local paper.

Ms. House, one of my daughter's current teachers, remembers what it is like to be an awkward middle schooler, and is always there for her students. She is at almost every school event and PTA meeting even though she has a family of her own.

Officer Hughes has to deal with some of the roughest issues at our school, but still manages to inspire some of the most troubled kids. He gives a good example of a police officer to all kids, trouble or not, and speaks to them in a calm but firm voice (wish I could master that!).

And even though it's TEACHER appreciation week, I'd like to thank school janitors everywhere! What a job, yet they usually manage to be some of the friendliest folks in the building.

There are many more, but it's time for me to go to work.

Rosemary said...

Susan, you are every teacher's dream parent--so *you* deserve to be appreciated this week, too! Seriously, I've heard some sad and scary stories about parents who range from completely disengaged to downright hostile; a parent like you who's so willing to listen and trust and be actively engaged in the process seems to be a rarity.

(Plus, you buy Dunkin' Donuts gift cards for your kids' teachers--how could it get any better?!)

As for your shout-out to janitors, I second that. Not only are they friendly, they're also *helpful* (more than one has escorted me to a classroom when I've been completely lost). And I think our junior-high janitor must have had to help some poor kid go through the trash looking for the retainer s/he accidentally threw away after lunch nearly every day.

But I have to know: what happened with Ms. Corazzini's daughter? I hope that story has a happy ending.

Susan D'E said...

Ms. Corazzini's daughter was doing fine, last I heard. She had a couple of rough years, though. Can you imagine being 8 or 9 years old and being the only person left in your original support group? I bet I wasn't the only first grade parent that had to tell my child that yes, it WAS fair that the teacher's daughter got an awesome climber for free from the Make a Wish Foundation!

Yeah, I'm really cognizant of the fact that I can barely control my own two kids, and teachers are expected to control roomfuls. Every day a story comes home that makes me wonder how they do it. Just today before class, two girls in my daughter's English class were arguing up in each other's faces. They were so close that some boys accused them of kissing each other, which, of course, led to more rowdiness. The kids just find this funny, but I asked "What did the teacher do?" S: "Oh, she stopped it." Me: "But HOW?" S: "Oh, she just stepped between them." I wouldn't last a week!

I admit, I think I'm a good parent to work with. (Note: I didn't say a good parent!) - somewhat involved, but not overinvolved. Hearing some of the complaints parents have, I'm not sure if dealing with parents is any easier than dealing with the students. Do they teach anything about interactions with parents to ed students at your university? We have a student who works in my office over breaks. She is studying to be a teacher, preferably special ed. I think she will be an outstanding classroom teacher - she has a very special way with kids - but I dont' think she's ready for the parent part, and it doesn't sound like her curriculum even touches on that.

Christy said...

I love this post, Rosemary, and I remember so many of these teachers (as I remember the clunkers -- I'm talking to you, sophomore-year health teacher. You know who you are).

I'd like to add Mrs. Stearns to the list of those who had a significant impact on me. We were such a weird bunch in honors English, and we often showed our love through clumsy mockery (what was *wrong* with us?!) But I adored here, and she did a great deal to shape my academic future.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, Mary Palsgrove Davis was killed in an auto accident yesterday. Putting that aside, there were plenty of really lousy teachers at Bexley. The PACE class was the worst thing going on there. Pure indoctrination in the guise of academic enrichment.

Rosemary said...

@Anonymous--yes, I heard the terrible news about her death this morning. So, so unbelievable and wrong, in every way. I plan to blog about her again shortly.

Anonymous said...

Mea culpa. I wrote Mary and should have written Molly. I was thinking of them both as I wrote my comment. Terrible error.