Monday, August 24, 2015

Time to Hit the Books

A while back, while I was still writing a book column for the Herald Times, I featured books about teachers. Since this is the big back to school week for my teacher friends, I decided to share a modified version of that essay with you.  Here goes....

For years I measured my life partially based on the successes, failures, frustrations and happy moments of my teaching career.  My life is still marked by an internal educational calendar.  I cannot shake it.  Although I no longer have to shift gears every 47 minutes, I still experience the myriad of emotions associated with opening weeks of the new "season".  And so, as the beginning of the school year approaches, it feels right to celebrate those who continue to honor the profession with their service.

Writers have acknowledged all types of teachers - the good, the bad, the silly and the non-traditional.  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird exuded integrity,  He is noble, honest and strong. The unpredictable consequences of his decisions haunt Atticus yet he is wise enough and brave enough to make them.

The impetuous Annie Sullivan struggles to teach blind and deaf Helen Keller in William Gibson's, play, The Miracle Workerhe . We all know the story. Yes, Annie does teach Helen, but Helen also teaches Annie.  Helen teaches Annie to see the world through new eyes and to listen to life's murmurings with patience and persistence.

Several books about teachers and teaching endure despite being set in eras when lecture was the primary teaching technique and young scholars toted tomes outlining the intricacies of Latinate grammar.  Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman's account of a nervous but passionate teacher's first year, along with To sir with Love and The Blackboard Jungle depict what can be accomplished with commitment and idealism trump defiance and doubt. Good Morning Miss Dove and Goodby Mr.Chips tell the stories of charming and resolute individuals whose classroom expectations earned them a place among literature's most beloved characters.

Filling the top spots on my teacher/teaching book list are The Art of Happiness by the Dalia Lama and Dr. Seuss" Hooray for Diffendoofer Day.  This little known Seuss piece applauds creative teachers who irresistible exuberance entertains and inspires.

Every day educators inspire and motivate.  They celebrate success with their students, brush off the dust of failure and try again.  They remember students when they see graduation pictures, engagement announcements, or the unformed portraits of those who serve our country.  Classes move on but teachers keep them close, fitting them into hearts and minds grown full from years of chalk dust, red pens and planning.  Teachers teach forever - every hour of every day - and when the final bell rings on the last day of the year, why not stand, raise a glass of wine and toast someone who has taught you....a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a brother, sister, babysitter, theatre director, novelist...anyone you can call your teacher.

In June, my glass will be raised to Karyl Enstad Rommelfanger, my Germane teacher to whom I would say "Ich kann mein gummischuhen nicht finden". Not so sure about the spelling by I am quite confident that means "Yikes!  I can't find my boots." Although I have retained little of my not so fluent German, I thank Karyl for being demanding, fair and realistic and most likely the reason I became a teacher myself.

My second glass will be for Paul Ingvolstad, my high school theatre director who teasingly shouted at me during rehearsals - "Hey Bev, don't sing so loudly, someone might hear you."  He tied each aggressive and fascinating lesson with a huge bow.  A gift to each of us every day.  I suspect Paul is lurking in the creative halls of Seuss' Diffendoofer School

Lastly, there was the feared and revered lit diva, Sister Salome from my college days. While other professors said I misinterpreted assignments, Salome said I reinterpreted them.  When some declared beyond question that my undestanding of key literary passages was 100% wrong, Salome siad that I found the irony in the works.  She taught me that the word "obtuse" has meaning outside the scary pages of a math text.

Together, teachers and students comprise America's most significant work force.  No one spoke with greater eloquence of the tremendous opportunity, responsibility and honor it is to teach than Christa McAuliffe, and American citizen and educator who died in the1986 challenger disaster.  "I touch the future.  I teach."

Thanks for stopping by.  Now go and learn something new today!