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.