My first grade granddaughter is an excellent reader, and lately she’s decided to spice up the nightly reading by playing the teacher. She reads to a class of students—I’m the only visible one—and I keep thinking as I lap up the expression she put into her performance that I wish her teacher could see herself right now. This is the fruit of Miss Dikeman’s tireless labor—the child who has her inflection, gestures, even the way she holds the book down pat, who reflects her enthusiasm for education and wants to be like her. Here’s the line I loved from last night’s lesson. “Now, children, we’ll have school Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday you’ll be having free time with your parents.”
Who didn’t grow up at some point wanting to be a teacher? Several of us here in the convertible are or have been teachers. Most people have teachers somewhere in the family, so most people understand that it’s not a profession you go into because you want to get rich. While a good teacher is, in my opinion, worth her weight in gold, she will neither be wearing it or squirreling it away. Her workday will not begin when she arrives at the workplace and end when she leaves. Her success will be hard to measure, and it probably won’t be recognized in any splashy way. Growing takes time, and that’s what a teacher does. She contributes to the growth of the minds of hundreds of individuals.
Our national government has passed laws called The National Defense Act over and over again in the course of more than 100 years, and until 1958 those bills were about military defense. In 1958 the Eisenhower administration backed The National Education Defense Act, which provided, among other financial commitments to education, help for students to go to college and become teachers. For the first time education was recognized as essential to the vitality of our democracy, our economy, and our national defense. And public education improved dramatically. Together with the Civil Rights Act and gains in equality for women, this change in our national attitude improved our social fabric by creating opportunity. And teachers led the way.
I’m not going to get into the collective bargaining issue—you can probably guess where I stand—but I’m sickened by some of the comments I’ve heard lately about teachers being overpaid and “only working part time” and getting “Cadillac benefits,” and generally being a rather sorry lot.
So I thought we could turn this discussion around. Teachers make a big difference in most people’s lives. Let’s celebrate that. I’d love to hear about your favorite teachers.
I’ll start. Mrs. Sheehan, my 6th grade teacher, was one of my favorites. Everything was a story. Science, math, the diagram of a sentence, the spelling of a word. And history was a grand story. Every unit came with a project, and every kid in class had something to contribute. We had skits, learned to square dance, wrote, read, sang, and still covered all the basics.
The best teacher I had in 12 years was probably Mr. Foley, who had been teaching U.S. History for maybe 25 years or more. Everyone was scared of him, but, man, we learned much more than a chronology of events. There was no text book. We used a program designed by Amherst College consisting of source documents. Each unit culminated in a topic for debate. Mr. Foley sat in the back of the room instead of the front, and he challenged us to think critically. He wasn’t warm and fuzzy like Mrs. Sheehan, but his class went a long way in preparing me for college.
Your turn. Who were some of your favorite teachers, and what wonderful memories do you have of them?