Thursday, October 05, 2017

Affecting Eternity: World Teachers' Day

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. - Henry Adams

Today is World Teachers' Day, and having had a lot of teachers myself, having teachers teach my kids, and being friends with a number of teachers, I want to give some shout outs to those teachers who have made the biggest impact on my life, my kids' lives and others.

The first teacher who truly made a significant impact on me was my third grade teacher, Mrs Hayden. I *loved* Mrs Hayden. When I entered third grade, I was already starting to enjoy reading, but Mrs Hayden cultivated in me an insatiable appetite for books that has persisted to this day. She would have special reading days planned, where we'd bring in sleeping bags, pillows and our favorite books, and spend half the day just reading on the floor, cozied up in our pallets. She also read to us - books that I've never forgotten like Maniac Magee, Snot Stew, and some book about a boy climbing a mountain and all the horrific things that happened to him and his fellow travelers. (I've got to ask her what the name of that book was.) She would sometimes let us bring in a book for her to read aloud to us, and she graciously tolerated my Babysitters Club books far more than she needed to. With her love of reading, can you see what an impact she made on me?!

Then there was Mrs Davis in 9th grade, affectionately referred to then and forever after as the Divine Mrs Lynn Davis by many of us AP English students. She had a passion for literature that was infectious, and my love of reading expanded to the classics, thanks to her. She made books like Tess of the d'Ubervilles and Jane Eyre come alive. She made grammar a priority and would not let anything slide. She pushed us to write better essays, and instilled in me the importance of a strong opening paragraph and an even stronger conclusion. To this day, I think of Mrs Davis every time I write. That opening line (while I don't always put the effort into it that I should - such as the extremely weak one in this post, "Today is World Teachers' Day") is always something I think about, and I remember her insistence that the opening paragraph capture the reader in a creative and magical way. The Divine Mrs Lynn Davis passed away several years ago, and I can speak for all of us who loved her so much that she will never be forgotten.

The Divine Mrs Lynn Davis

Mrs Balgavy, now known as simply "Jane" to her former students was our GT teacher in junior high and our forensics and debate coach in high school. Mrs Balgavy took public speaking, acting and the theater extremely seriously, teaching us never to break character, never break the fourth wall, and to always be sure we know our shit.  She taught us the proper attire to wear to a theater production. She also had a zero tolerance policy on alcohol, drugs and smoking, putting the fear of God in us if ever we should step out. She taught us to fake-it-til-you-make-it, a skill that I honed and practiced for five years under her guidance. All those skills I learned from her, including how to overcome stage fright, how to speak extemporaneously, and how to convince anyone of anything you are passionate about, are skills I use every single day of my adult life.

Forensics coaches Jane Balgavy and Ashley Wyatt

In college, I had a series of professors who also shaped my writing skills and love of literature and reading. Dr Candido made me fall in love with Shakespeare. The way he read passages aloud to us with such conviction and passion made Shakespeare waltz into the twenty-first century and capture our attention. (Not to mention, Dr Candido was ridiculously sexy to me, with his bowties and bald head, and the way he propped his foot up on a chair as he leaned in on his knee towards us to really emphasize a beautiful line or a significant point... ahhh. I loved him.)  My creative writing professors, Skip Hays, Davis McCombs and Michael Heffernan all taught me to be a better writer in so many ways. While I still think I graduated college with a very pretentious writing style, the lessons they each taught with me have never left, and I continue to learn from them even now. Avoiding cliches, imagining creative metaphors, and incorporating intelligent allusions are things I consider every time I write. Again, I don't always adhere to those standards in blogging, but they are on my mind every single time!

I know I've left out a number of other teachers who impacted me in significant ways. Mrs Hirsch who I had for math at least three times and who tried her damnedest to teach me pre-algebra, algebra and geometry with all her might, Ms Ursery who tried her damnedest to teach me chemistry, Dr MacRae who was a crazy lady with an obsession for all things Scottish and took me to my first Burns Supper, and Dr Cochran who taught the most interesting college class I ever took: Folk & Popular Music Traditions. These are just a few of the teachers I had in my life who have shaped me into who I am today.

Fifi, Mrs McArthur & Lolly
Mrs Campbell & Lolly
My kids now have teachers who are shaping them too. They will learn something from all of them but, like me, will remember some of them more acutely and more fondly than others. For me, I'll never forget Fifi and Lolly's Gaelic teachers at Highlanders Academy and Whinhill Primary, Mrs MacLeod, Mrs Campbell and Mrs McArthur. Mrs MacLeod had my five year old Fifi speaking fluent Gaelic by the end of P1; how amazing is that? She taught with a firm yet motherly approach, and every child in her class adored her. Leaving Scotland and the Gaelic unit was one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make. A part of me will always feel a small pang of regret that our kids didn't get to finish Gaelic medium education. Mrs MacLeod has now retired, and I cannot thank her enough for the amazing start she gave to my daughter's education.

Jaguar & his kindergarten teacher Ms Wilson

Through the years, my kids have already had some awesome teachers, and this year is no different. They are patient, firm, encouraging and challenging to our three children. How can I ever express my deepest gratitude for what they do every single day to educate my kids?

And finally, I can't forget my friends who have chosen education as their careers. It's not the most lucrative career they could've chosen. It can certainly be thankless, and I imagine there are days (weeks? months?) where the pressure and stress is overwhelming. But for whatever their own personal reasons, they keep doing it, they choose year after year to spend their days educating the next generation and future leaders of our society, hoping that something will stick and they will make some kind of impact on some student's life. It's one of the most selfless and most difficult jobs in the world, and probably one of the most underappreciated.

So today, on this 5th of October, World Teachers' Day, I offer my appreciation to my own past teachers, my children's past, present and future teachers, and my friends who have made teaching their chosen professions. You are all amazing and deserve every bit of gratitude, support and appreciation there is to offer. You also all deserve raises. And longer planning periods. And smaller classes. And more resources and materials that don't come out of your own pockets. You deserve pencils, for heaven's sake. And wine. Lots and lots of wine.

(I can't help with most of those things, but can probably help with the pencils and wine. Just let me know what you need, guys.)

So to educators everywhere - Happy World Teachers' Day. You are the best of the best.

Most of us end up with no more than five or six people 
who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people 
who remember them for the rest of their lives. - Andy Rooney

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