Thursday, January 01, 2009

Just Folks

I found out a few weeks ago that my second-grade teacher died in 2007. She was 94. Of course, when I was in second grade, I thought she was already in her 90s. Let’s see...that was about 47 years ago, so she must have been in her 40s. When you're in second grade, everyone looks old.

I’ve learned a lot about teachers and aging since then. I never really enjoyed school, but I had some remarkable teachers. I also had some teachers who were the target of my frequent comic poetic portrayal. A lot of my teachers were just plain “characters,” though. Unforgettable. I might have forgotten everything I learned in their classes, but the teachers themselves are burned into my memory. I have enough memories to fill blog posts for a year.

My least favorite teacher (11th grade English) was, interestingly enough, my sister’s favorite. My sister followed me 2 years later, so maybe Miss Weaks had mellowed by then. My favorite teachers were my French teachers, that is, until my last French teacher who didn’t know the difference between the French verbs “to rain” and “to cry,” so I kind of lost respect for her expertise. Most of my teachers just intimidated me, because I was raised to defer to their knowledge and rules and I always did what I was told. I tried to make good grades to please my teachers as well as my parents and myself. I never thought of most of my teachers as real people. During my 12 years of schooling, I visited the home of only my piano teacher for private lessons and my chorus teacher, who consistently opened her home to students. Most of the other teachers were enigmas - I had no idea if they were married, had children, where they lived, if they went to church, or what they did after 3 p.m.

It was an epiphany for me when I grew up when I realized that teachers had real lives outside of school. They went to the grocery, went to restaurants, went to the park, and did all sorts of ordinary things. I remember running into my piano teacher at Walgreens one day years ago. I was shocked to see her in an unfamiliar setting. She was extremely short, but I never noticed it because she was always sitting by me when I played the piano. I couldn’t picture many of my teachers doing things like buying toothpaste.

Of course, things changed when my daughter became a teacher, married a teacher, and then my son married a woman who became a teacher. All of a sudden, things clicked in my head. Teachers had families! They had kids! They paid bills! They could be silly! They could wear casual clothes! They had favorite foods and hobbies and pets!

Do you want to know the most fascinating thing I learned about teachers? I learned that they probably didn’t want to go to school any more than I did back then. They longed for snow days and holidays and summertime. I remember in Memphis on a rare snow day when my sister and I would be jumping for joy, I pictured the teachers cursing the heavens because they had to miss one day of torturing us. I thought they loved their jobs because they had the power over hundreds of students - the power to discipline, the power of the red pen, the power to make or break a report card. I never realized that so many of them got tired of going to work at the school day in and day out, and even among those who loved their jobs, most still enjoyed the serendipity of an unexpected day to stay home. I know the teachers in my family love those snow days!

Here’s to the teachers! Remember - next time you see that schools have a day off, it’s not only the students with unfinished homework who breathe sighs of relief!

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