Wednesday, October 07, 2015

A Family of Teachers

After a weekend here to celebrate her tenth high school class reunion, granddaughter Erin left us with hugs and we waved her off. There was a text when she arrived in Saint Louis with the rented car to be gassed up and turned in. Another text when she was ready to catch her flight. And just as I was drifting into sleep an hour or so after Sunday midnight, I heard the loud musical signal that Gerald’s phone plays when a new text comes in. Loud enough to hear over the noise of a tractor, I suppose. I had not been waiting for it, but I knew instantly who it was and why. Gerald slept through it, and he would find it on his phone when he woke up at five or six. I rolled over and thanked God our granddaughter was safely back home in her apartment in Texas. I knew she would be getting up in a very few hours to go spend the day teaching 7th graders and then after school coaching the season’s sport for girls.

Erin is one of four women who together coach volleyball, basketball, track, power lifting. Seems like there was a fifth sport. Right now I think the season is volleyball. No softball for that age group, and oddly with all her softball coaching experience, Erin seemed to find that refreshing and less pressure on her. I do not doubt she is a fine coach.

But what I really am deeply pleased about is her class room and the 90 kids who come through it daily. I love hearing about her activities to help these kids be better writers. I enjoy hearing her enthusiasm and understanding for her “sweet babies” who may smart off or cuss her or who might even in an extreme case throw a desk across the room. I like knowing she is teaching them that is not the way to be. I like knowing that she does not take personally the bad behavior that results from a child’s life-time of home or neighborhood mis-education. (And sometimes even a lifetime of brutality.) I hate hearing the teachers who shake their heads and talk about how bad the students are today and, thus, excuse themselves from trying to earn their paycheck. This is Erin’s third year of teaching and the first in this city, and she has every intention of making a difference in students’ skills and, consequently, in their lives. And she will.

Many years ago I listened to Katherine’s stories when she taught inner city 7th graders sometimes taller than herself. Some were dangerous. Yet I never heard her talk bad about a student or hesitate to go talk to a parent in the projects if needed. She deliberately never locked up her purse; and if I am remembering correctly, she only lost one twenty dollar bill. Good teachers love their kids and never give up.

I love hearing our daughter Jeannie tell how she interacts with students in her classroom turned into an art studio. The kids are sometimes put into shock mode when they realize they must create and are not expected to do the same thing at the same time as a neighbor. For many kids this is an unsettling new experience. The freedom of not coloring within the lines (so to speak) has to be dealt with emotionally before their innate talent begins to express itself. This takes lots of time and lots of patience.

My own little long ago teaching experience was always in schools with less of the behavior challenges that Erin. Katherine, Jeannie, and my niece Kyna have faced. And I never taught long enough to master some things. So I vicariously enjoy hearing these descendants’ successes. Yet what many people do not understand is how far we have come from the days of one-room schools when teachers were routinely run off by over-grown 8th graders who liked to throw their weight (and fists) around. Yet the successful teachers—even tiny young women sometimes—could subdue the miscreants and charm kids is into learning, which all humans love to do if they find they can. (I am sure the teachers today who have died from guns would prefer yesterday’s fists, but I am avoiding that subject.)

I suspect teaching is like everything else—its success depends on determination. If one method does not work, something else needs to be tried. Quitting is not an option for a good teacher. I loved hearing my sister-in-law Vivian, whom I am sure was an excellent teacher, tell about a night class she took on discipline near the end of her career and how much she learned from that class. Good teachers are always learners and open to new ways if the new ways are better.

I did not mean to blog about teachers tonight, but education is one of my strong interests, and I got carried away. There are three or four teachers in our area whom I consider master teachers, and I always follow their careers when I can. My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a teacher. I had his teaching exam results framed for a gift for my brother, and I am ashamed to say that I loved it so much that it is still hanging on my wall. I always delighted in my brother’s stories of teaching also. One story: he became a principal in a poverty-stricken area and the basketballs were constantly being stolen by kids who did not have them. He quickly let them check them out and take them home with them, and then they were returned and none were ever stolen again.

My great grandfather did not want his son to leave the farm and ride his horse so far away the 20 miles or so to Carbondale to become a teacher. An older man in the community loaned him the money, and he was always grateful to that kind man, my daddy told me. Both my parents were teachers, and I heard them arguing their somewhat different teaching philosophies at many meals. (I saw how they respected differing opinions, and so today I value honest debate.) I saw them pile into a car with other teachers to go to Carbondale to take yet another night class in hopes of completing their degrees. Besides the loved ones I have already talked about, I have one granddaughter who taught before she had her three sons, and I have two grandchildren in their last year of college who are planning on careers in special education. I like to think this pleases that grandfather I never met.

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