Last week was national teacher appreciation week, Tuesday being teacher appreciation day. Although not a teacher myself, the day resonated with me deeply. Periodically, events, conversations, or indeed arguments cause me to well up with emotions of gratitude, thankfulness, and profound relief for the teachers and professors and mentors that helped shape me to the man I am today. For the last couple of years, my appreciation for my teachers has almost been without ceasing.
I was always better at language arts and English classes during grade school. (Any surprise I’m a staff writer at a newspaper?) Reading, writing, rhetoric, oratory, and simply learning how to communicate fascinated me from the moment I learned my first letters. While I envied my peers who were math wizzes, science junkies, and all star academics in other areas, I was thankful for my own internal love of words. However, I don’t know that I would have discovered the affection for the subject if it were not for the help of many English teachers along the way.
Learning how to read and write was exciting, but it was the advice to “write with conviction,” as Mrs. Milarch would say, that caught me. It was Mrs. Rohlf’s instruction to research deeply and read richly that I applied years later. It was Mrs. Ellis’ encouragement to keep my voice in my writing that stayed with me since seventh grade. It was Mrs. Fields’ appreciation for my creativity that made me appreciate it myself. It was the passion of Mrs. Terpstra that rubbed off on me and kept me wanting more.
As the United States and its great institutions appear to continually trek down the anti-education, anti-academic, anti-intellectual, and anti-enlightenment path, I’m thankful all the more for those teachers and the many others who broke through my high horse adolescence to reveal the beauty of a bigger world. A bigger world beyond my home, but one that made me appreciate home all the more.
Like most Midwest men, I delight in recalling my (not so distant) younger years. My friends and I still laugh hysterically at our high school/teen years filled with mischief, angst, and rule breaking. But as we do, I enjoy just as much when we reflect on how our paths crossed with various teachers. From agriculture classes, technology and shop classes, fine arts classes, and physical education periods, the teachers shaped those years and experiences as much as any friend group or family members.
Now, my engineering friends use all those math equations and science theories we all moaned about. My friends in business, marketing, advertising, and the like are glad for those group projects they begrudgingly had to do most of the work for. And I, when occasionally assigned a drab event or topic to write about, am grateful for the boring writing prompts, lengthy essays, and research projects I was assigned.
Teachers don’t just babysit their students for a few months. They plan lessons, both from a textbook and from the real world of hard knocks. They talk and present ad nauseam, but they also hear and see their students like no one else can. Teachers preach peace and justice, and then break up fights at lunch. They stand on their feet all day, then find a little more energy for after school clubs and sports. They scold and hold their students accountable, while doing the same internally, and for their coworkers. They try to keep the learning environment lighthearted, while preparing for the worst possibilities. With their students they share many laughs, witness and let out the occasional tears, entertain debates, and sometimes create lifelong relationships with grateful pupils. Teachers inspire, disappoint, succeed alongside, occasionally fail, eagerly teach, and even learn some things themselves.
They’re never perfect, but neither are the students who come through their doors. Week in and week out my own teachers showed up to their classrooms exhausted, frustrated, and pessimistic. But they showed up anyway, week in and week out, and now so do I to whatever I’m doing. I appreciate the example of my teachers, and, in my own week-to-week, I strive to remember their many lessons and encouragements, and maybe teach and learn along the way as well.