Thank a Teacher


I have been exhorting people all day to thank a teacher, and as a result I decided I should thank a few of my own. After all, much of what they taught me shaped my teaching in my classroom.

My earliest memory of a teacher is of Mrs. Robinson, my first grade teacher. Granted, I don’t remember a single lesson she taught me, but I vividly remember the paddling I got for fast walking (nigh on to running) in the classroom. I guess you could say she taught me to slow down a bit.

Mrs. Braly was my third grade teacher, and she read aloud to us. I can still see her sitting at the front of the room, lips painted bright red, legs crossed, with her high heeled shoe hanging off the tip of her toes.

Last in elementary school was Mrs. Hadi. Oh, the dread. Nobody wanted her. Nevermind that when you finished sixth grade with her, you were absolutely ready for that scary seventh grade leap. I determined from her coming in on Monday one week with greenish tinted hair, and another Monday with bluish tinted hair, that paying a professional to wash that gray right out of my hair would be wise in my later years.

In junior high, I got to have Mrs. McElheny not one, but five, count ‘em, five times a day. My heart thrilled at the sight of my schedule. As I recall, I had her for homeroom, two study halls, English, and lunch. She, on the other hand, was decidedly not thrilled with this news. I couldn’t understand. I LOVED her! Well, now that I’m a teacher I totally get why she was less than excited to see my smiling face five times a day. We teachers tend to recycle our witty comments and object lessons throughout the day, so if we have the same students multiple times, our brilliance starts to fade after about three retellings. Funny thing, though, I don’t recall ever thinking that she was repeating herself.

In ninth grade, Mrs. Dean taught my classmates and me a lesson I know she never prepared for and never sought to teach. Joy, my friend who sat next to me in Mrs. Dean’s English class, was killed in a car wreck along with her sister and parents. Somehow, Mrs. Dean guided us through that grief and how to deal with Joy’s empty desk sitting next to mine.

On a happier note, she also pointed out how the girls, in our classroom in the days before air conditioning, would perk up like Spring flowers when particularly good looking football player type boys would walk into class.

Mrs. Woodford taught me how to dissect a worm, but more than that, she taught me joy. She always had a smile on her face. Always. What a happy woman. She loved telling us that her name was Birdie Byrd and she was from North, South Carolina. With a bio like that, who wouldn’t be happy?

After I graduated, I took my toddler son to her house to meet her. While there, he whapped his toy truck on her glass-topped coffee table and cracked the glass. My heart cracked a little, too. Her graciousness has always stayed with me because she told me not to worry about it one bit. I’ve always appreciated that.

Miss Reynolds. Oh where to begin. Her sayings are still legendary.

You be Frank, and I’ll be Earnest.

If you go to bed with dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas.

Keep your ducks in a row!

But more than the sayings, of which there are many more, she had our class do a Treasure Chest. This is not what you are thinking. Miss Reynolds’ version was a notebook where we were required to find photos (no Google images or internet then) of items like Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns, egg and dart design, finials, pediments, broken pediments, leather fire buckets, Greek key design, Betty lamps, andirons, and much, much more. I learned so much from my Treasure Chest that I assigned it to my American Literature students in my own classes. When I visited Washington, DC, I was so grateful to her that I had names to put to all the marvelous architecture that I saw there.

In Mr. Gooch’s class one day, I pulled the hair out of my hairbrush and dropped it on the floor. Gross, right? He asked me if I did that at home, and being the lying teenager that I was, I told him yes. He said that he knew my parents, and he was pretty sure that I did not throw my hair on the floor at home. That day he taught me more about respecting property that wasn’t mine than he can imagine.

Mrs. Beaver taught me how to lay out pages in a good design for our high school annual. She allowed me freedom to experiment with different layouts while keeping me within the bounds of good taste. For this I am grateful. To this day I shudder when I see layouts with flowers and embellishments plastered about, and photos cut akimbo. She also taught me not to run to the bathroom without telling anyone when I whacked the top of my index finger off with one of those giant paper cutters. I almost passed out when the water hit my wound.

Mrs. Tash supervised my student teaching. One day I had a real problem with a student. The next day I asked Mrs. Tash how I was supposed to treat the student when she came to class. She said, “You treat her like nothing ever happened. Somebody has to be the adult.” Thank you, Mrs. Tash, for the most valuable lesson that I continue to use in my classroom to this day.

In college, Dr. Roth taught me that music is the universal language.

Dr. Absher taught me that marketing class was awesome to the point I changed my major to business. However, when I couldn’t pass economics, I happily returned to my first love—English literature.

Dr. Thompson represented the epitome of the English professor. He had the look, he had the voice, and he had the intellect. In his class I learned that when you are a master teacher, if you start your class on a different work than what your students have prepared for, you can just turn the pages to what they studied and lecture without missing a beat. This was a Milton course, by the way. I was in awe that he could do that.

Dr. Foster taught me how to diagram the life out of a sentence. I hated it, but by the end I could diagram sentences with the best of them. I diagrammed so many sentences that at one point I was in his office crying because I could no longer find dadgum verb in a sentence. Now that’s overload for ya.

The teacher I was told to avoid at all costs was Dr. Wilson. The easy teacher’s class closed, and I was faced with the dilemma of taking Dr. Wilson’s class or going another semester. I’m so glad I took his class. He taught me more about teaching than any other instructor I ever had. I learned to walk with confidence into a classroom, to teach with authority, and to say no directly if a student’s answer was wrong without pussyfooting around. I also learned how to read a student’s face if there was lack of understanding and explain again so the student might comprehend better.

Dr. Neff paced the classroom like the Energizer Bunny and looked like Inspector Gadget. He made Lit Crit interesting, and that’s quite the feat, I can assure you.

Dr. Gaunder was not only my teacher, she was my mentor. It didn’t matter what I asked her, she could explain it to me in a way that made it crystal clear. I also loved her very much. Imagine my surprise at her memorial service when I heard that she made scores, if not hundreds of her students feel like they were so very special to her just like she did with me. Now that’s an amazing teacher.

I learned class material from all of these teachers, but it is pretty clear that what the great teachers teach, maybe even more than coursework, is life lessons. Many of my teachers have passed on and many will never see this. But to all of these, and the ones I had but didn’t mention, I say, “Thank you.”

Last but not least, thank you to my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother, my uncles, and my aunts—all teachers in elementary or high schools. Their example helped shape me into the teacher I am today.

What teacher do you appreciate?