School Heroes

 

My first heroes were my parents. My mother and father loved me unconditionally and in addition to providing me with the staples of survival, taught me the tenets of morality and humanity that have guided me through life for some fifty years.

When I was old enough to go to school, I discovered another class of heroes: teachers. I n red brick public schools , in the care of those heroes,   I learned to read and to write.  I learned long division and later calculus. I learned about democracy and Buddhism and the Congress of Vienna.  I saw Dick and Jane and Spot run and I embraced the genius of Shakespeare and Fitzgerald.    But perhaps more important than academic data acquired in those schools, were the daily challenges to live the ethical ideals my parents expected me to apply even when out of their sight and earshot.  It was in these experiences that my school heroes helped me most.

They were always there: in the front of the room, looking over my shoulder, at the head of the line, appearing whenever, where ever they were needed.   Some marched in impossibly high heels, a comforting cadence on linoleum corridor floors.  Others glided effortlessly among our desks in colorful, flowing garments of the counter culture.  So many years later, I remember their names, their faces, their expectations.  These men and women demanded that I never settle for less than my best.  Though I tried repeatedly to evade them, they accepted no excuses for late work or unkind actions.  “What do you mean you don’t have a pen,” Miss German asked in front of the rest of the sixth grade.   That day, I also learned the meaning of a rhetorical question.   The consequences varied from classroom to classroom, but there remained the explicit understanding that what I did—or more often, did not do—was my own doing—or undoing, as it might be.  My school heroes taught me early on to man-up, that a lesson learned would never be  an error wasted.

And it didn’t occur to me to complain to my home heroes about a scolding or a detention, either.  I just knew that my parents wouldn’t be any more pleased about transgressions than my teachers had been.  When Mr. Danzig sat me out of kickball for unsportsmanlike behavior, I didn’t mention it at home, praying the rotary wall phone wouldn’t ring with the news.  The same held true for talking incessantly in Mrs. Horan’s global studies class or neglecting Mr. Kanze’s sixth grade arithmetic assignments.   The heroes on the home front were united with the heroes at school.  It was a brilliant alliance, one that gave me the priceless chance to live up to my potential every day, in every subject.

For this—and so much more– I thank my parents and my teachers. Together, my home heroes and my school heroes made me accountable.  With one voice, they reminded me to be my best.  I am ever grateful.  Their continued collaboration on my behalf helped me discover my talents, confirmed the rewards of hard work, propelled me toward personal and professional success.  When people expect you to do your best, more often than not, you do.

Remember Why We Entered This Profession

Everyone has heard those jokes about the allure of teaching: summer vacation, holidays,  short work days.   To the uninitiated, these apparent “perks”  have come to define our profession.  Those of us who teach, however, know better.

I found my way to teaching via the scenic route, by way of a BA in English, a brief stint in the world of print journalism, and the lifetime committment to motherhood.  With the support of my husband and with two small children at home, I enrolled in graduate school and earned an MS in Teaching, finishing with a 4.0 GPA.   Back then, teaching secondary English represented a chance to combine what I already knew I loved– kids, school, reading, writing–into a career.  And almost as soon as I addressed my first class of eleventh graders, I knew two things. One,  I really might enjoy teaching.  Two, teaching well was going to be so much more challenging than I ever imagined.

The first year or two were simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.  Some days, my high school classes were a series of wild fires that I was barely able to contain, much less extinguish. I forgot to assign/collect/correct homework.  Classes were interrupted by (pick one or more): assemblies, fire drills, band lessons, play practice, class trips,  the occasional  lovers’ quarrel or fist fight.   Planning lessons and correcting an endless supply of essays instantly became a second full time job.  But then, something about Jay Gatsby’s love for Daisy or Atticus Finch’s courage in the face of blatant racism would evoke a sigh or a cheer and then, the class and I collectively soared.

Eventually, I mastered the planning, managed the pacing and became more optimistic about my chances of being a five year survivor, the point at which my more experienced colleagues said they had become somewhat better at this very demanding and very complex job.

In the years since, I have taught AP Literature and now share my love for language with seventh and eighth graders whose energy and angst keep me on my instructional game.

Though the rules of the game have changed, it helps me each day to remember that I love what I do.  I still belive what I believed on my first day on the job: next to parenting, teaching is perhaps the most important job on earth and just like parenting, the only way to get good at it is to do it.