Teacher Appreciation Day made me think about my favorite teachers and why they still hold a place in my heart and mind. There are three of them.
Mrs. McCall was my first grade teacher. This was the first time I was away from my home all day as the first grade classes were in an annex 10 miles from my house. It was far away from my mother and I felt it. Yet, Mrs. McCall loved me and I knew that too. I wasn’t special. She loved everyone. Her love gave me the courage to trust school. In a class permeated by safety and order, she created the conditions where risk was ok, and because I could take a risk, I unlocked the mysteries of reading and writing. All because of Mrs. McCall. There was magic in her teaching, and believing she loved me, I was smitten and loved her back.
Mrs. Cohen was my third grade teacher. Statuesque and stern, she must have been a year, perhaps days, away from retirement. From Mrs. Cohen, I learned about high expectations when producing or demonstrating what you knew. Good enough was not even close to good. She pushed and she was fair. She created a drive in me to go one step further and not accept unambitious work. I was always on my toes, never quite sure. My eight-year-old uncertainty proved to be a life-long motivator.
My father also stands as one of my favorite teachers. With an unending quest for learning and knowledge, if he wanted to know about something, ten books appeared by his chair. He was scientific, mathematical and valued thinking. His modeling taught me as much as conversations with him. He was curious. What I learned about wasn’t as important as: Was I following my interests? One of his greatest lessons was the importance of treating everyone with respect, saying it takes every person’s contributions to make a collective success.
Love, high expectations, curiosity and respect.
This week, as you drive to school, go for a run, make dinner, mow the grass, mull over these questions: What did your favorite teachers do for you? What did they instill in you?
I asked this of the Lower School faculty here at Westtown. I posed the question and then added that as their colleague and supervisor I can give them a partial answer to my question because I see it every day. Their teachers instilled in them a sense of fairness, a belief that the group matters in addition to the individual, that actions should be guided by a moral purpose, that childhood is fun, and adventures set the conditions for learning. Although we might not have learned this way, we somehow acquired this wisdom: learning in a community is richer and more complex than learning alone. With immense gratitude for all of the teachers in and out of the school setting who have influenced us.