The overwhelming majority of teachers I have known–as a student, as a peer, and as the parent of students–have been wonderful people who do this difficult job because they love it despite its challenges. Even so, I have a few favorites. (Caveat: I can’t pick a favorite from Gardner-Webb Divinity School. I love you all!)
Ms. Brown, 5th grade.
In the 70’s, as in every decade, North Carolina tried some stupid stuff in education. In my 3rd and 4th grade years, I was in open classrooms. I don’t remember why that was a thing, nor do I really care. I just remember it was loud, distracting, and overwhelming (for me, anyway). In the 5th grade, I got to be in one classroom for the whole day with this one marvelous teacher who loved students and teaching. On what must have been the first day of class, she announced to her class full of mostly white kids, that her name was Mrs. Brown and if we forgot we could just remember that “Mrs. Brown is Brown.” Brilliant! She got racism right on out of the way and beat a bunch of 10 year olds to the punchline. She was fabulous.
Ms. Highsmith, 6th grade.
She’s the teacher who said of me, to the class and on my report card, “Aileen has real heart. She sees students in need and cares for them.” I didn’t know I did that, or at least I thought everyone else did too. She pointed out a giftedness in me that I’d not realized myself. That’s a good teacher right there.
Ms. Lewis, 7th grade.
I was seriously bullied in 7th and 8th grade, but in Ms. Lewis’ class, I forgot all about that. Language Arts! Books, language, words. I loved it, loved it, loved it. Plus, she was funny. (I realize now what an amazing gift of comedic timing she must have had for seventh graders to find her humorous!)
Ms. Delaney, 9th grade.
Mary Delaney, did not play when it came to English grammar. I’ve always loved grammar, so I appreciated her zeal. She was also quite quirky, a fact that made her even more loveable. My best friend and I were so crazy about her, that at the end of the year, we took her to our favorite lunch place, our treat. (We had open lunch back then and could leave campus for that blessed hour.) It’s to Ms. Delaney’s infinite credit that she accepted our invitation, and went out to eat with those two geeky white kids.
Ms. Hayes (RIP 2019), 10th grade.
Ms. Hayes, sock footed, would not have been five feet tall. But at school, in her 3-4 inch heels, she was a giant. She taught history, but mainly she taught joy. I can still bring her laugh to mind, see her vibrant smile. She was an absolute delight. As a 15 feet year old dealing with all kinds of self-esteem issues, I found her energy exhilarating. Because of her, school wasn’t so bad.
Dr. Walter Barge, undergrad.
Around 1984, Campbell University hired a new dean of the college of arts and sciences, Dr. Walter Barge. Dr. Barge was one of those deans who loved teaching so much that he straddled the administrator/faculty divide and did both. I had him for my senior seminar. He said of my writing, “You have a gift. Develop it.” (Then he proceeded to mark up my papers so thoroughly that it was hard to see any evidence of said giftedness.) He was a man of integrity and honor. God rest his soul.
Dr. Diane Neal Kremm, grad school, round one.
Dr. Kremm was flat out crazy about Southern history. When she taught, history rushed forward into the present, alive and relevant. I sat in her class enthralled, amazed, and inspired. It was invigorating. In her office, she had a portrait of John Brown. What’s not to love?
Oh wait! There’s one more.
And she’s my favorite teacher of all time. I was her first student, and she was my first teacher. She taught me to read in her makeshift classroom in the upstairs hallway. She stood at her blackboard easel wielding pastel colored chalk; I sat in a little red chair and propped an oversized book on my knees for a desk. So, yeah: my sister will always be my favorite teacher of all time. (She started her official career as an educator in 1985 and is teaching still.)
So thanks Dawn, for teaching me to read and, ya know, everything. And thanks to all educators who tirelessly bless the children of this world day after day. You absolutely–no question–make a difference.
Let’s all thank a teacher today; and let’s vote for education reform that honors the good work that our teachers do and respects the value of every single student.