“Open your mouth and speak distinctly,” my 95 year old grandfather says through clenched teeth. This is his oft told anecdote about his high school Spanish teacher; the joke being that she never opened her mouth but expected her students to speak clearly. My youngest brother, now a Jersey City Fire Captain, can tell just as funny an anecdote, about his kindergarten teacher putting him in the “Hot Seat” for trying to kiss girls in the classroom. My best friend, a highly intelligent civil engineer can make people laugh until they cry when he tells stories of classroom antics at his prestigious all boys school, the teachers’ lessons peppered with expletives and off color jokes. I myself have been known to tell the tale of my 9th grade typing teacher who would hit me in the head with a pencil when I hit the wrong key on the cap covered typewriter. However, as a life- long educator myself, I follow up that tale with the name of the teacher and the fact that I can now type over seventy words per minute without error. I remember not just the anecdote, but the lesson learned as well.
For generations, teacher anecdotes have often been called out at dinner parties, bar room gatherings and coffee clutches. It is my belief that because everyone has been through the education system, everyone has a favorite teacher story to share. “Telling tales out of school” as it were, became a bonding experience, a conversation starter, and at times even an ice breaker before a presentation or other workshop. Favorite teacher stories span public, parochial, and now, with increasing frequency charter school graduates. For the most part, the stories are amusing, self deprecating at times, and paint the teacher as a sort of caricature of the profession, not unlike the “ wha-wha-wha” way teachers were depicted in the old Peanuts cartoons. Funny teachers and zany classroom experiences? Sure, who doesn’t have a story? However, I must ask, both as an educator and as someone who has great faith in the Catholic education system, is this really the message about teachers and education that we as a society should really be sending to our impressionable children and teens?
Perhaps when we look back at our elementary and high school years, we recall a teacher who may have lost his or her temper a bit frequently. I ask you, indulge me for a moment and look back on that situation, not with the eyes of the child you were, but with the eyes and mind of the adult you are now. Could it possibly have been a first or second grade teacher who worked so hard each day to teach vowels and consonants, while her students tried to color on the walls? However, we all know “a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y”. None of us missed that lesson, but not many of us, myself included can well remember how it was taught to us in a way we would never forget.
Let’s go back to that stressed teacher for a moment. Change the classroom from elementary school to late middle school and once again, look back as an adult. That teacher, who you remember from your childhood as being too strict or too mean suddenly looks a little different when you reflect, doesn’t he/she? Could it have been an 8th grade homeroom teacher, who was dealing daily with the new raging hormones of just developing adolescents? I bet that teacher was there almost every day, prepared, ready with a lesson that no thirteen year old wanted to hear. After all, we all graduated 8th grade, didn’t’ we?
If you would indulge me one last time and call to mind your high school years. When I look back, I can vividly recall how much I dreaded going to Latin class, where I was sure to be singled out for not being able to conjugate correctly to the tune of whatever song Sister Helen Jean selected that day. But now, I will tell students that Latin and typing were the two most important classes I took in high school! Who was it for you during high school? A 10th grade geometry teacher, trying desperately to teach the Pythagorean therom to a group of fifteen year olds who were trying to study their driver’s ed manuals in Geometry class? And yet, we know a2 +b2 = c2, right? (well, don’t test me on it!) A 12th grade Literature teacher, trying desperately to discuss the inner workings of Hamlet’s fatal flaw, while all around her the seventeen year olds talked about who was taking whom to the prom. However, that teacher tried her hardest to explain Hamlet’s indecision each day. And now, 22 years out of The Academy of Saint Aloysius, I cannot at a moment’s notice recall the name of the boy I wanted to go to the prom with, but I can remember that Hamlet’s problem was his indecisiveness.
Unless you finish your education and decide to jump into the fire that is the field of education, what you most remember about your journey through the education system, be it public or private, is a handful of amusing anecdotes. That is not to say we do not, as a whole emerge extremely well educated. WE do, we go on to be doctors and lawyers, and CEO’s, and writers, and actors, and politicians. And we call on, each and every day, the knowledge we gained from grades kindergarten through college to help us in our career paths. Yet, none of us, myself included at times, is above boiling down our educational experience to amusing stories that often play students in the best light and teachers, in many instances, in not so flattering ones.
Today, as we at SDA move into our 2nd semester of the school year, I do want to take a moment to thank all of our teachers, past and present, for giving their all each and every day. They do wonders in the classroom daily; lessons great and small. As Head of School, I put out this goal for all of our young ladies at SDA this winter and spring. I encourage our girls to take time to continue to get to know their teachers even better, appreciate their teachers, even if they do not always appreciate the subject matter being presented on a particular day, and most importantly recognize the teaching profession for the challenging one that it is. I have been a teacher for years, and I will be a teacher for the rest of my life. And so, today, I thank all teachers, most especially the ones who choose to shape the daily lives of the young women here at Saint Dominic Academy.