Saturday, March 19, 2011

For the Teachers in My Life

The other day I received a gift.  It was not valuable, it was not glitzy, it was not expected. But it was wanted.  It was needed.  It was treasured.

I received a letter from my grammar school music teacher.  Here it is 30 years since I sat in her classroom and a card comes in the mail.  I think the most special thing about this letter and the woman who sent it is I was not a musical genius.  I was not head of the class.  I was not even the opposite - an attention grabbing clown or bad kid.  I was just your average little kid.  Sitting in the middle of the room.  Barely able to carry a tune.  Quiet.  Shy.  Unnoticed.

But not with Miss Dee.  Because she noticed everyone.  Every. Last. One.

And because of that, we loved her.  We ADORED her.

Back in those days, teachers demanded and received a lot more respect from the kids in their class.  If kids were acting up, I remember, they used to switch the lights on and off once or twice and we all shut up and took our seats.  Miss Dee had her own unique tool.  She would play two chords in rapid succession.  Just two.  And I can still hear that resonating sound and the little butts hitting the seats immediately afterwards.

She would make each one of us sing our scales.  She would walk the room and have us stand on a chair and she would press on our diaphragm to get real sound to come out of our shy little mouths.  She taught us songs ranging from "This Land is My Land" to "Bless the Beasts and the Children" to "Don't Sleep in the Subway Darlin" and on and on.  Each year she would rehearse us and rehearse us and take what little talent we had on stage for the annual concert.  The 6th graders got special treats...getting small group numbers and dance moves...and somehow she made even the most reluctant of us tremble with joy and anticipation at the thought of getting up on that stage.

It's still a great regret of mine that I came down with some illness the day before our 6th grade concert, spiking a fever, and missed my one chance to dance with a hat and cane.

When I got the letter and opened it, inside I found extra treats.  Two more letters she had written in previous months or even years all going to a former address.  When they were returned to her, she kept them, and kept searching and waiting until she could find the right place for these letters to go.  And finally she did.  And out spilled her words and her spiky cursive handwriting I remember from all of my report cards.  And I could smell the old school.  And I could hear her two chords.  And I started humming "Bless the beasts" in the shower the next day.  And I thought, what a gift.  What an incredible gift - to touch children as she did and have it linger for 30+ years.

I come from a family of teachers.  My mother is a teacher.  Both my sisters are teachers. Mother-in law, cousins, friends.  It is a profession I wish I had the aptitude for...but it takes a very special individual to do that job and do it well.

So for all the teachers in my life.   Ms Goodwin, who read to our class the book "Where the Red Fern Grows" and reinforced that books can move your soul.  Ms. Erskine, who scared the crap out of me and taught me chewing gum was vulgar (although I still do it, just not in polite society situations).  Mr. Lown who convinced me that quiet and shy was ok, and then awarded me the citizenship medal - one of the biggest surprises of my life.  Mr. Emerson who taught me that science could actually be cool and I was smart enough to grasp chemistry.  Mr. Nightengale who made me yearbook editor and taught me skills I use every day in my current career...mostly about deadlines and laughter going together.  Mr. Baskin who taught me not only how to read more critically, but how to write like a grown-up, and keep my eyes open like a child.  And so many other teachers, whose names may have faded from my memory, but whose lessons never will.

Ms. Dee - for everything. Thank you. And this is for you.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I love that clip.

I think one of the great things about FB will be that a teacher will be able to stay in touch with students and vice-versa.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I have to say that we just never know which kids we really affect and in what way - and it's mutual, as you've discovered. When I was going through the breakdown of my marriage, I received a phone call from a former student of mine who'd been moving heaven and earth, it sounded like, to reconnect with me. She told me how much I'd influenced her and what she remembered about being six years old and in my class. She even recalled me coming over to her house to visit her family and how that motivated her to clean up her bedroom! What a gift that phone call was! So I completely understand your feelings at getting those letters.

JeannetteLS said...

My late sister was one of those teachers. When she died, I got so many letters from ex-students, that I had to parcel them out to myself over a month. And those were the ones I did not know. She must have kept twenty-five as good friends... She worked long hours out of love for her profession. She made me so very proud to be her friend and her sister. Thank you for this post, Wenderina. She was MY teacher in so many things.

Susan said...

What a wonderful thing to receive from a teacher. I do remember many of mine and some of the out of the blue compliments and support I, too received from them.

I just wish it was always lawyers that are the a**holes in these stories. My husband is a hard working attorney who really helps people, doesn't judge someone based on their salary and some years doen't make much more than a teacher.