When teachers conspire

My sister retired this year after decades of teaching at a Catholic elementary school.

Milestones like this one always get me thinking. Combine that with the fact that two of my other sisters are teachers, and you have teachers on my brain.

There is a thought in Paulo Coelho’s best-selling book, “The Alchemist:” “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it.”

Which got me to thinking of all the teachers I had through the years who conspired with the universe to get me here. To published writer status. To bylined status. To “it would be so much easier to give up this dream but I’m not done with it yet—or it’s not done with me yet” status.

EducationYou all have them, these teachers, somewhere in your history.

Maybe you were the kid whose single mom could not afford eyeglasses for you. And the teacher everyone thought was older than God, the one with the attitude and the crotchety stare, turned out to be your angel. Took you for the exam and paid for the glasses. This happened at my son’s school years ago, to a classmate of his. I would have been none the wiser had I not been volunteering in the hallway and heard this teacher’s kind offer. So much for crotchety.

Maybe you were the high school athlete that couldn’t do anything right in your father’s eyes .And then your burly bear of a physics teacher/coach made you see that your grasp of kinetic energy and covalent bonds made you a contender for college. And for a life in which you played a starring role for once, able to make your father’s lack of faith in you a distant memory.

I was the smart, nervous kid in first grade who fluttered like a butterfly because all those kids and rules and noise just made my nervous system explode each day. Mrs. Downs wisely put me in charge of the lower reading groups. I coached my peers on how to sound out words, sitting in her chair, during reading time. I still bless that woman. To focus on someone else’s distress took me out of my own.

I think of Mrs. Corrigan, whose Snoopy trophy for best third-grade class multiplier was the Holy Grail in our basement classroom for months. The girl who had little interest in or talent for math was able to bring that trophy proudly home on several occasions. And it got a place of honor on our dining room hutch for the week. Mrs. Corrigan knew how to get the best out of us. She talked that thing up like it was solid gold and we bought it hook, line and sinker.

Mrs. Haffner, in my junior high years, fanned the flames to kickstart me as a writer. It was unheard of to be required to do “creative” writing exercises in my Catholic school but Mrs. H made it happen. I am not sure I have had as much fun in a writing course since. It almost made up for the hundreds of hours we were required to stand at the board and diagram sentences. Almost. I could be creative, but she would be damned if I was going to be grammatically incorrect while doing so.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then there was my eighth grade math teacher, who tried everything he could to bring out the math whiz in me during eighth grade. He stopped at nothing, shamelessly seating me next to our resident Boy Genius, Mark Stahl. I think he thought if the math didn’t take, perhaps a budding romance would. Alas, both ploys failed. Let’s just say no Snoopy trophy in the world could have helped me master story problems. And I’ve since learned my taste in men has not historically been discriminating enough to choose boy geniuses. Too bad a course does not exist to improve that skill.

Flash forward to high school. Sister Helen Jean who let me find my humorous voice in the written word, while introducing me to writers like Ibsen. Mrs. McGary, who scared us all with her severe navy blue suits and large spectacles—but who made sure I grasped Shakespeare and Beowulf like nobody’s business. And showed me I had a flair for the comical.

Most of these teachers earned a pittance. Catholic school pay has never been great.  And yet, these lovely souls conspired to fan the flames—to grow a talent, fuel an interest, foster a dream. I’m just one. There had to be others. Multiply little ‘ole me by hundreds, possibly thousands.

Oddly enough, it is not my college professors or mentors later in life that come to mind when I think of people to thank. It is the ones who saw a nervous stick of a girl, all bones and paleness, and looked beyond to what she was not showing them. Who saw me reading books beyond my years, devouring them, in every free class moment. And, instead of chiding me for it, fanned that flame.

I wish my children, and yours, the same. People for whom money takes a backseat to a calling. Their calling.

We should all be so lucky.

And I hope someday that I live to see them compensated better than we compensate men who throw tiny balls around a court or a field. Not all of them. Not the ones in it for summers off. They’d be better off as plumbers or secretaries.

But the ones who have a flair for helping us parents grow little people with big dreams? Oh, yes. For them, I think we would all up our taxes.





14 Comments Add yours

  1. My mom is a teacher. And even if she is tired and I continuously plead her to retire she always find some reason to defer it. And mostly it is because she meets some student who appreciates her and expresses their gratitude. I agree that teachers play a huge role in our lives. And they deserve more credit.
    Beautiful post!!

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    It’s sad that teachers, like nurses, aren’t rewarded to the same extent that they are held in high regard. But it was always thus .’I’m 26, and I’m single, and a school teacher, and that’s the bottom of the pit.’ Etta Place in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

  3. Debbie Mallernee says:

    Loved this. I am a retired teacher. The many acts of kindness I have seen by my peers I can not count. Such good and caring people.

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. kathy madigan says:

    Love it~all your messages are great, but this one hits close to home!!

  5. Love this. I’ve been thinking recently about the teacher who suggested I become a journalist. She changed my life, without even knowing it. I’m planning to blog about her too…when I get a minute!

  6. Kate says:

    Ah Mrs. McGary…. she scared me too – grew to love her in later years go figure ! I “dared” to argue a comma fault on a term paper and she actually gave a smirk (I took as a full on smile) and changed my grade! I barely passed Honors Brit. Lit. – and fighting that comma fault was a game changer – a gift – one that made me learn to FIGHT for what mattered. Thanks for this post – you are SO eloquent and always SPOT on!

  7. You have an ability to say what I have often thought as if you had been inside my head. Thanks for reminding of those great mentors for myself and also my children.

  8. Laura Brzegowy says:

    Lovely post! It reminded me of my Art, Latin and English teachers that I adored and are even my Facebook friends 29 years later!

  9. lmarieallen says:

    I had a French teacher in high school who was at once terrifying and fascinating. German by birth, she learned French and Spanish in college. She had a penetrating stare and a wicked temper, and she was a hallway legend with her penchant for throwing erasers in a fit of rage. I adored her. To me, she was the picture of grace and elegance. I even made up a French name for myself and signed my papers “Antoinette Dubois”. Geeky, I know. She took me to Montreal my senior year to see McGill University, and it was one of the headiest experiences of my young life. Yes, I have had some wonderful, dedicated teachers!

  10. A great, caring teacher is both a blessing and an inspiration. How fortunate that you encountered such teachers. As did I.

  11. Wendy Kate says:

    Teachers are indeed very special and I am very lucky to have married one! 🙂

  12. Aunt Beulah says:

    I soaked up this post, every word. As a former teacher, I think I speak for teachers everywhere whose most meaningful reward is when students like you share memories like this and remind us that you noticed and appreciated us in ways that matter. Thank you.

  13. justme3362 says:

    This is such a good reminder at a good time in the year!

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