SOL: A Slice of Appreciation


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“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
Albert Einstein

My sister recently attended the funeral of a friend’s mother who had been a teacher in our town for many years. My sister’s fourth grade teacher was also at this funeral, and when Joanie saw her, she hugged her and told her, “You were my all-time favorite teacher.”

Imagine that. After forty years, to be told you had made so much of an impression and had such an impact on a person’s life. Of course it’s a teacher’s goal to help every child learn every day, but there are some teachers who stand out, who somehow make us feel special. These are the teachers who ignite our joy for learning, who set us on the path to our future. So in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to recognize the teachers who’ve made the most difference to me.

If we’re lucky, our parents are our first and forever teachers. My parents taught me the value of hard work and instilled a curiosity about the world around me. They have always encouraged and supported my dreams, and I am still learning from them.

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Graduation from University of Maine, 1980

Confession time. I was not always a good student. I was much more interested in talking to my friends than listening to the teacher. Today, I would probably be diagnosed with ADHD. But in the 60s, I was told to be quiet and had my desk moved. Because of this, I didn’t see myself as smart, or even that capable. But there were glimmers of hope.

The first hint of possibility came in fourth grade, when Mrs. Mathews read James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and, most importantly, Charlotte’s Web. Thank you, Mrs. Mathews, for introducing me to the book that made me a reader.

Middle school was a long, dry patch. I’m sure I had fine teachers, but none that really stood out. But high school was a different story. Ms. Kazanjian and Mr. Giroux co-taught American history my freshman year, and they opened my eyes in a way that made me want to be a teacher. They also saw something in me that I hadn’t recognized. Their belief in me made me start to believe in myself.

I think I only had Mrs. Bailey for English twice, but she made a lasting impression. I still remember our study of Greek mythology my senior year. Her high expectations and broad knowledge inspired me to dig deeper into subjects, and to keep asking questions.

By the time I was in college, I was fairly confident about my ability as a learner, but there is always more to learn. I was so fortunate to have had three English professors at Western Connecticut State University who expanded my horizons in ways I still feel today. Dr. Jambeck unlocked the mysteries of the English language and entertained us with her peerless Middle English reading of The Canterbury Tales. Judy Sullivan brought passion and joy into the classroom everyday. It makes me smile to think of her, quoting Shakespeare and then grinning and telling us, “See, there’s nothing new under the sun.” Finally, Dr. Pruss, with her probing questions and insights, helped me understand the power of poetry.

We may never know the true impact we have on our students’ lives. But I hope that I bring the same passion and joy to the classroom each day that these fine teachers brought with them. I also hope that I take the time, as they did, to look beyond a klutzy, awkward chatterbox to see the potential beneath the surface, then help her see it too.

Thank you all, for helping me become who I am today.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. You are all teachers I continue to learn from, and appreciate your dedication and generosity. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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10 thoughts on “SOL: A Slice of Appreciation

  1. This is such a lovely tribute to teachers of your past. I enjoyed reading about each of them – so different, yet all so inspiring to you. I have a feeling there are many students who feel the exact same way about you… and will, forty years from now.

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  2. What a wonderful idea for a slice! It’s always amazing to me when former students get in touch with me five or ten years after they had my class to share something about the impact I had on them. It’s so often something I don’t even remember saying or doing! It’s a good reminder of how far-reaching our smallest actions and words can be.

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  3. Catherine,
    Thanks for sharing such a great slice honoring so many teachers in your life! I was trying to name some during travel time today without much confidence in my memory. (or at least not the positive ones that I was thinking of sharing!) We never know when / how we impact students so we need to think about the words that we use that do impact the children we serve!

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  4. I too enjoyed reading your slice and then recalling my teachers. I had Mrs. Matheny in 4th grade who read aloud novels to us. I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler the most!! Such a fond memory, now 40 years later!!

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  5. Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories. As I smiled at your stories, I couldn’t help but list my own – of the one teacher that inspired me to become one. She passed three years ago, but I carry a little piece of her with me, and I’ve been sure to tell my students all about her. We are who we are because of the lives we’ve led and because of those that have helped lead the way.

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  6. As you named your teachers, I thought of my favorites and why they were my favorites. They were teachers who saw me. Who treated me as a special worthy person and who taught me how my opinion was worthy, as long as I could support it. Thank you for your memories and for rekindling mine!

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  7. “To see the potential beneath the surface,” something that all wise and wonderful teachers do. Your post made me want to write about some of my teachers. “Middle school was a long, dry patch.” Those words made me think ouch! I’m hopeful that my students didn’t see our time together as a long, dry patch.

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  8. Thanks for courageously sharing your educational journey with us, Catherine. I know it probably wasn’t easy to write about. (I remember struggling with writing my reading life piece on NBC a few years ago.)

    On a related note, I see my fourth-grade teacher at my parents’ synagogue every Rosh Hashanah. I make sure to tell her just how much I loved her class every year. First of all, I truly did. Second of all, I know how much that can mean!

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