Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and I have a lot of thoughts about teachers.
I think teachers…particularly public school teachers…are extremely underappreciated and sometimes even demonized, at least where I live.
So I’m going to talk about the teachers who I’m most grateful for and who most influenced the person I am today.
When I was in kindergarten, my vice principal taught me how to read.
The school where I attended kindergarten was (and still pretty much is) a tiny school, and there were maybe 50 or 60 total kindergartners in 1983. Our vice principal was a genuinely kind and funny man who very obviously cared about children; who they were as little people, not only their formal education.
I’m an old person now, so back when I was in kindergarten, there were still teachers who believed that kids *shouldn’t* and *couldn’t* learn to read at that age (and they meant ALL kids…these weren’t ‘learn at your own pace’ educators). Mr. H used to come to class periodically and take me and a group of other students in pairs or threes out to work on ‘speech.’ He showed us little hippopotamus flash cards with 3 letter words on their bellies and (kind of secretly) taught us phonics.
I think about him sometimes, and how totally undervalued he was by the kids he taught. Because how COULD we possibly appreciate what he did for us when we were five? Wow, do I appreciate him now, and I wish I could tell him how much. Not only did he teach me to read (and where would any of us be without the ability to read? We couldn’t even get on our blogs to whine about things), but I think, even though I was 5, and it almost HAD to be subconscious, he also taught me that when you know something’s RIGHT, even if no one agrees with you, even if you’re told NOT to…do it anyway.
When I was a fourth grader, I had a panic attack at school. I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. I thought ‘I didn’t feel good.’ Sick to my stomach. Racing pulse. Hard to catch my breath. Crying. I was a mess. My fourth grade teacher wasn’t the nicest of women, but she did think enough of me and my situation to contact another teacher for help (Mrs. F ended up being my fifth grade teacher…whom I loved, and accidentally called ‘Mom’ more than once…she was my academic team coach). Mrs. F helped me though my fourth grade panic attack (that’s the first full blown panic attack I can remember having). I didn’t leave school. She didn’t even call my parents to come and get me (which was good…because what I recognize as other anxiety episodes now as an adult got dismissed and ridiculed and belittled by my mom a lot as a kid…’Why do you ‘get sick’ every time it’s gym day?’) I’ll never forget her for helping me and showing me that adults can be patient with little people who have anxiety.
When I was a seventh grader, I was in a new school and had even fewer friends than I had when I was in a comfortable, smaller school the year before (and that wasn’t a lot…I’ve never been an outgoing or popular person). It was County Track and Field Day. Somehow? In a relay race I was forced to participate in, my team qualified to be at county track and field day. So I had to go. I’ve never been a big fan of compulsory athletics (see ‘gym day’ above), but I went, because I was already the nerdy, dorky, shy new kid and I didn’t need any help alienating my classmates. That was for the first half of the school day and between the performance anxiety and dehydration, I had a monster migraine headache by the time we got back to school. I was sitting in Mr. S’s World History class, unable to concentrate because of pain. Mr. S was almost 7 feet tall and students called him Lurch from The Addam’s Family. (He did look a lot like Lurch…face shape and everything.) Lots of kids were afraid of him for obvious reasons. But he saw me sitting there, squinting in obvious pain and asked if I was alright. I said in barely coherent, slurred words that I thought I needed to go home. He sent me to the school nurse with my things, expecting that I wouldn’t be returning. But the school nurse said, ‘If you felt good enough to go to County Track and Field this morning, you feel good enough to stay in school all day,’ and sent me back to Mr. S. He politely asked Mrs. L, who taught the class next door, to watch his room for him, marched me back to the main office himself and said, ‘<School nurse’s first name>? Miss Thawsley cannot speak a sensible sentence. She is one of the best students in my class, so I know this is because of illness. I suspect it’s a migraine headache. My wife gets them with similar symptoms, and I gotta tell you…if she is *exactly* like my wife, she’s going to throw up soon, and if that happens in my classroom because you refused to send her home to feel better to…prove something I guess? I’m going to ask the custodial staff to have YOU personally clean it up.’ I got to go home that day. I wasn’t afraid of Mr. S anymore; he was my hero. I learned that day that unexpected people will go to bat for you sometimes and that just because a person looks intimidating doesn’t mean they aren’t an observant, caring person.
When I was a senior in high school, I took 3 Advanced Placement classes, including Calculus. Math is not my favorite. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate math. I’m actually not bad at math up to a point. I mean, I had made it all the way to Calculus. But it was a struggle to maintain ‘get a scholarship’ level grades. I got really frustrated one day in Mr. V’s class, and, totally out of character, interjected, out loud, as he was explaining a concept I have since let go dormant in my head, ‘WHY do I need to KNOW this?!’ He very calmly said, ‘Because if you pass the Advanced Placement test in May, you will not have to take any math in college. You want that, Jen.’ I always appreciated Mr. V’s calmness and patience, but that practicality was something that stuck with me as a greater life lesson. Sometimes…you gotta do some shit you don’t like…to get the great reward at the end of the line.
Teachers are wonderful people.
They do a tough, honorable job that is grossly undervalued by many. Not by me. I am grateful for every teacher I had–they helped make me the person I am today. Remember: Albert Einstein had teachers; Thurgood Marshall had teachers; Jim Henson had teachers; Maya Angelou had teachers. EVERYONE YOU LOOK UP TO, whether they are your parents or a well known public figure, had TEACHERS.
Much like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veteran’s Day, and Black History Month…the thought is nice, but Teacher Appreciation Week is not really *enough.*
There are many trite platitudes haughty folks share about teachers, and one that always sticks out for me is this:
‘Those that can’t lead, teach.’
Pardon the French, but that’s crap. Those same people who proudly make false, derogatory claims like that, are forgetting the teachers they had. Were they all home-schooled? I doubt it, but even if they were, *someone*, even if it was their parent, taught them to read, and taught them the concept of ‘zero.’ (Bravo to those early educators, btw. Ever tried to explain the concept of ‘zero’ to someone who didn’t know what you meant? Trust me…it’s rough.)
The truth of the matter is, whatever you’re doing now, whether you are scrolling through social media feeds or performing brain surgery, a teacher is responsible in some way for you being able to do that. And they should be appreciated EVERY DAY.
In honor of teachers, (and also because I am currently working on a sequel), Storm Chasing is on sale this week in ebook format.
I know I’m a week late, but…maybe thank a teacher today.