2/05/2016

The Greatest Gift




The greatest gift any teacher can have is for one or more of their students to take what that teacher has taught , and run with it. To be successful, smart, funny , creative, to use your insights and academic quirky loves and build on them.


For teaching is a love affair - Pygmalion had it right - not only with words and ideas , but with one's whole view of the universe, with knowledge, one's topics, ones students ( and yes, sometimes the sound of one's own voice). Great teachers inspire great learners , and there is no egotistical high quite like hearing your ideas, the seed you planted in some young person's mind, grown and expanded and developed in ways you never thought possible.


Growing up, I had a lot of great teachers - but the one most universally beloved was Magistra Roberts, my high school Latin teacher. Generations of students in Texas were fortunate to learn about Latin, memorize declinsions, all about the titillatingly seamy dark side of ancient Rome, how to translate and compose poetry in a language not your own, and hopefully not incur one of her strange insults, such as to be called a "furry tailed ick" .


I once was at a party some 25+ years long past my high school years, several hundred miles away from where I grew up. Somehow the topic came around to great teachers. Some guy I had never met who was 20 years older than me said, "My favorite teacher was my high school Latin teacher."


"Why that's very unusual, " I replied. "My favorite teacher was MY high school Latin teacher. Where did you go to high school ?" I asked.


"Richardson ," he answered.


"Why, I went to high school in Richardson,"I said. "Which high school did you attend ?"


"Richardson High," he said.


"Oh my gosh ! " I squealed, "I went to Richardson high ! When were you there ?"


"Early 60's, " he said.


"I was there in the late 70's ", I said. "My favorite teacher, my Latin teacher ,was Magistra Roberts. Who was yours ?"


"Magistra Roberts ."


It was then that I knew - this woman had been teaching since the dawn of time, influencing generations of students. Now that is a legacy.


Along my life's journey, there have been many other great teachers in my life- my undergrad ancient history professors, my graduate Shakespeare prof. My first mentor in my first real job right after college.


It was because of these teachers that I quickly figured out that the buisness world was not for me, that a life of teaching was my true calling. I have been teaching now for 20 years.....and , as one of my old profs said to me when I went back to college for a milestone reunion, "it's the early years of your career that you remember most .....the students, what you taught, how you taught it."


And so it is with me. I remember those students from my first few years of teaching as though it were yesterday. They were such bright, talented, funny kids. I was so green . One day, as I stood with my back to the class to write on the board, ( Surviving teaching rule # 3 : Never position yourself so that you can't watch the students at all times . Never.) , the entire class of 20+ 15 and 16 year old boys and girls simultaneously took out of their pockets rubber bands, pulled their hair on each and every head into a topknot ponytail , all exactly alike - they did this swiftly, silently, and clearly in a pre-planned manner . When I turned back around to look at them, I saw a sea of faces looking like creatures from a Dr Seuss book . I broke into laughter at the absurdity of what I saw (Surviving teaching rule # 17 : Never laugh at them. Never . Be stern, serious, and in control at all times.)


One day a female student, obviously bright and bored and coasting through my class making high A's with very little effort, came up to me after class and asked for something to read for fun, outsdide of class. I was busy struggling how to figure out my own time management skills ( write lesson plans, stay one novel aheqd of my studnets for in -class reading, invent tests / assignments, grade essays) , how to keep the class behaving and on track, why were certain kids failing and / or discipline problems.....I had no idea how to challenge the top end of the students. Absent - mindedly my mind flashed through "what books had I read as a teen ?" The answer I came up was cmpletely random, I could have just as easily said ,"read about archaeology" as I said,"Gone With the Wind". (Part of it, I think, was I wanted something nice and long, to keep her from coming back with this same question again, in a couple of days !)


So off she went.....got the book from the library.......and the rest, as they say, is history. Came back to talk to me about it, as she read it ......In the words of Captain Renault in the film "Casablanca" , it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. She went off to college, we stayed in touch - always talking about books we were reading . Over twenty years have since passed, and this student and I have remained friends, reading and sharing books , our ideas about books, long conversations about writing, writers, the writers craft, books turned into movies, etc. Eventually our friendship has grown more well-rounded, and we actually share gossip, news of our lives, family, friends, careers, etc. But it all started with that one book recommendation.


Recently, my heart grew 3 sizes on the day that this one former student, now a full fledged adult with a far more " grown - up" job than I've ever had , met with one of my other dear bookie friends, and we all talked about our writing ideas until way into the night.


"Here's looking at you, kid"

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