Teacher

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In my Facebook feed, there was a prompt to see if you could remember all of your teachers from kindergarten through grade six, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. I sat at the kitchen table and struggled to bring forth a couple of names and faces, while others came easily with a wave of memories. Each teacher planted seeds in me and gave of themselves toward the person I would become. I have to imagine that a good number of them have passed on since I was their student, and that’s an overwhelming thought. From where they are now, they get to see the breadth and depth of the seemingly small work they did each day in their classrooms, and how their students bloom even today.

My kindergarten teacher was young and pretty, and try as I might, I can’t summon up her name but I remember her presence. One day, she brought in a big bag of percussion instruments and opened it up onto the floor. I remember thinking that they, and she, were magic. Mrs. Ardizoni taught first grade, and Ms. Giovanangelo taught second. By their names, you would think we were in an Italian neighborhood instead of the melting pot of late-1970s suburbia. Third grade brought Miss Price, and grace. She was tall, curly-haired, and sweet. Miss Price rubbed off all of the sharp edges that came in the earlier grades but kept the structure. I remember that year as happy and relaxed. Fourth grade, we had Mr. Santoro, one of the rare male teachers in the district at the time. He was strict and fair, the way a fourth grade teacher needs to be. I had Mrs. Homer in fifth grade. She learned toward nurturing but in my memory, got a little overwhelmed at times. In sixth grade, Mrs. Erickson was the teacher every parent wanted their kids to get. She ran a tight ship, and had high expectations. She loved her students fiercely, but those spirited emotions could come out in negative ways, too, and the parents didn’t always hear about that. Dr. Folsom was the art teacher. The first person I ever knew with a doctorate, he insisted we call him ‘Doctor’, and at the time we didn’t really understand why. (Note: if I ever earn a doctorate, which will be never because it is far too much work, I will daily wear a t-shirt instructing everyone to call me by that title.) He opened us up to a wider world of art that, looking back, was probably ground-breaking at the time.

Mrs. Tarchara was our music teacher, and a blessing, and a saint. I can’t say enough about how that woman changed my life by seeing me, encouraging me, and opening doors that influence my life even today. Mr. Wilkins was our principal. Greeting every child who came in every day, even in the rain in his yellow raincoat, he connected. When it was clear that I was academically advanced but still socially awkward in sixth grade, he suggested I spend some part of every day working in the school office. Greeting visitors, using the loudspeaker (so fun!), and interacting with teachers, it built confidence in me that I sorely needed. I still remember Mr. Wilkins manning the grill during our class cookouts, red-and-white-checkered apron and handing out hamburgers and hot dogs to each child using their name. God bless him.

When you sit in a classroom all year, you are part of a community, and the experiences of that year help to form you during this critical time of life. The reach of a teacher cannot be overstated. When you’re a kid, teachers seem other-worldly, like super heroes, and the memories we carry from their classrooms hold that weight. In our minds, they are saints or sinners. As a kid, there’s no way to know the strain and stress a teacher brings into a classroom every day, but as a teacher today, I know it well, and as I’ve watched my own children go through school, I’ve appreciated the daily heroics of teachers on a whole other level.

Mrs. Holmes used my daughter’s reading strength to help with kindergarten shyness. Sending her to read to first graders gave her confidence and a boost that set her up for success. Mrs. Manning and Mrs. B. were a dream team, bringing out the best in both of my first graders with their unique, personalized, student-centered care and instruction. Mrs. Jones never raised her voice but kept such control of her over-filled third grade classroom, that it would make your jaw drop. Her Saturday morning call to update me on my son’s progress is still etched in my memory. Mrs. Aveni’s kind, loving, and nurturing presence allowed my third-grade daughter to step forward even further into the person she would become. Mrs. Collins set the fourth-grade bar high and helped my son to know the reach of his ability, and Mr. Gibson’s quiet, creative, funny class was a perfect setting for my fourth grade daughter.   I will remember his poetry day, where we snapped instead of clapped for their readings, for the rest of my days.

I honestly don’t know where my kids would be today if not for their dedicated middle- and high-school teachers, who saw them for who they are and whose encouragement and high standards formed their adult selves. How do you thank a person like seventh-grade teacher Mrs. Aiello, who told your daughter that her future was limitless. Or Mrs. Pankowski, whose language and occasional sarcasm mirrored your kids’ and helped them to love writing and speaking. How do you thank a teacher like Mrs. Pistorino who basically carried your son on her back through Spanish class, and loved him, and kept me in the loop with such kindness. What could you possibly do for a teacher like Mrs. Brogna, whose energy and example in bringing both science and art together sticks in the minds of your kids. Or Mr. Cray, whose tv production class and listening ear were fundamental and gave a voice to their creativity. How do you thank Mr. Rosow, who taught them rhetoric, and story, but also life lessons that they will remember and use literally forever. Or Coach Sylvain, who models discipline and caring and leaves his heart out on the XC course with the kids.

You can’t thank these people enough, and that’s the truth, but to remember them in some way is important. The vital role that teachers have played in our lives and the lives of our children is in large part what makes us who we are. They sacrifice an awful lot to plant those seeds, and it’s nice to let them know that blooming is taking place.

Yesterday, my storm door opened and closed quickly and when I went out to look, there was a single rose there, left by one of my preschool music students. I did not expect it, but it’s a treasure to me. A school day is made of small interactions and progressions, hundreds of tiny attempts to break through and bring light. When that light and daily watering causes a seed to begin the growth that was always inside of it, it can be a really beautiful, miraculous thing, and no words are quite enough.  Still, we should try.

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