“When one teaches, two learn.” Robert Heinlein
Fall is coming, it’s back to school time for kids, and I have been thinking about my favorite childhood teachers. These people taught me things that no ordinary teachers possibly could. I learned not only from their instructions, but from their actions and examples. It’s often said that children learn not from what you say, but what you do.
Parents are our first teachers. I was blessed to be surrounded by love, and shown great examples of the benefits of hard work by my parents. We were a family of the era, my dad working and my mom staying home with us. My mom had been brought up very traditionally, and knew how to cook and clean and entertain.
At some point during my late elementary years, my mom took a job with an interior design company. She had always had an eye for style. When I look back now, it’s pretty impressive that she was even hired. She didn’t finish her college degree and had zero previous design experience. But she loved that job. And while I may have pouted about not having her around as much, I was secretly so proud. She taught me to find a venue for my creativity. She taught me it’s ok to have something for yourself and still love your family.
My aunt Phyllis was a wonderful example for me as well. She graduated college with a teaching degree and had taught several years before having her kids. Then, when her babies were a bit older, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor and applied to medical school. She was not accepted to a few schools because, back in the 1970’s, a married woman with children just did not go to medical school. She was finally accepted by a school to study Osteopathy. She worked her tail off and was a successful family practice doctor until her retirement a few years ago. She even ended up working for one of the medical schools that had turned her down. She taught me to go for your dreams, no matter what anyone says, and that it’s never too late to learn new things.
Ms. Powell, my fifth grade teacher, was my most influential teacher in a school setting. First of all she was a “Ms.,” which was a fairly new thing in the early ’70’s. She had short black hair, a la Liza Minelli, and wore the most stylish of clothes. I am sure she was a Gloria Steinem devotee, or as we used to say, a women’s libber. She was a young teacher with new ideas, and she taught in a way that challenged you. Your words mattered in her class. As a fifth grader, I didn’t have a true understanding of what it meant to find your voice until Ms. Powell helped me find mine. We held debates and mock trials. She lit a fire in me to look at things from all angles and see another person’s point of view. She also taught me what a strong independent woman looks like. None of these things were a part of the curriculum.
Teachers are undervalued in our society. I have seen first hand what it takes to teach in the public schools through our daughter, who taught for 5 years after graduating. She gave her whole heart to her fourth and fifth grade classes. Today, you not only have to teach the curriculum, but also manage student’s behavior plans, be a social worker, lead shooting drills, assemblies, crafts, and state testing programs also get thrown into the mix. And all of this with 30 or more students in a single classroom.
Teaching is hard. I was fortunate to have some great ones, and I am sure many of you did. So I would ask that if you know a teacher in your public school system ask them what they need to make their lives easier. Chances are they will welcome your help!