It’s Teacher Appreciation Week!
It’s great to be appreciated! I am a teacher, and I want to say you’re welcome to all of those former and current students who said: “thank you.” And to those who didn’t say “thank you,” you’re still welcome!
But, I want to take this time to say thank you to a few of my teachers. It doesn’t matter whether they are alive or dead, I want to thank them anyway. I am not sure if my teachers had specific standards they had to follow, but they made my learning worthwhile.
First Grade: Mrs. Brown
I went to University Heights Elementary School that was located near the University of Arizona. Mrs. Brown was a first-year teacher when I entered the First Grade. I didn’t go to Kindergarten, so it was my first time in a classroom with kids. Mrs. Brown was young, right out of college with a smile, long brown hair that was parted in the middle. It was 1971-72, and she reminded me of an older Marcia Brady. We had cubbies, we had centers where small groups moved around the room. We had reading time(A Duck is a Duck was the text), which was my favorite time! I loved to read, and I was eager to learn too. It bothered me that some of my new friends didn’t know a lot of the words in the book, and they struggled. I was a quiet girl, so I didn’t say anything, but I wanted to help them. I saw that Mrs. Brown took a lot of time with them when it came to reading; in fact, I noticed that some students were still in the A Duck is a Duck reader while I went on to the next reader, and I am not boasting. Again, I am pointing out that Mrs. Brown worked and celebrated with all of us – we were all at different levels, but she didn’t let on that anyone was any different than others.
The most significant memory I had of Mrs. Brown was when I had pneumonia. I was a very sick little girl, and I couldn’t go to school for about two weeks. Within those two weeks, Mrs. Brown would come to visit me twice a week in the evenings so that I could catch up with work. My parents would invite her to eat, but she refused. We sat in the living room, and she would go over the assignments with me. It was the essential assignments in reading, writing, math, social studies. She had told my parents that I was one of the highest students in the class, and she did not want me to fall behind.
Wow. That’s dedication, and I am grateful for M sacrifice to leave school in the evenings and come over before going home to her husband and dog, Max. I don’t think I can live up to be a teacher like Mrs. Brown, but I will never forget her selfless act to come to my home and help me out.
Third Grade: Mrs. Shields
Mrs. Shields was a short, feisty teacher. She was older, and she remembered one of my older brothers. Third grade was a bit difficult for me because I suffered from a bully in my class. Although her mother and my mother were friends, this girl would make me do things that would make my stomach tie up in knots. She would drop her pencil and make me pick it up. She would make me say curse words out loud because I wouldn’t curse like her or the rest of the students. She would make fun of me because my mother would make most of my clothes (which were very tailored well because my mother would get paid to make clothes from other women, including my bully’s mother). It was a trying year, until…
Mrs. Shields saw what was happening one day. The bully dropped her pencil and demanded that I pick it up. As I was reaching for the pencil, Mrs. Shields stepped between me and the pencil and said, “No, Lisa. Get back to work.” She glared at my bully and told her to pick it up. She did.
We had parent/teacher conferences, and my mother attended (my parents did not miss a parent/teacher conference in my school career). Mrs. Shields started out talking about how I am a good student, and she was worried about how I wrote so big on my paper without spacing my words out. So, my mother agreed to work with me on my penmanship. But, Mrs. Shields brought up how I was being bullied. I was at the conference, so my mother asked me about it. I cried. Mrs. Shields said that she recommended the principal to move my bully into another class for my Fourth-grade year. I felt like a brick was lifted off from my shoulders. Mrs. Shields assured my mother that my bully’s mother was informed, and for the remainder of the school year, I was not to be bothered again.
Mrs. Shields was my hero! I don’t know when she had noticed how I was being treated, but she didn’t stay silent. I will never forget that. *Side Note* I say “bully” and not a name because the person is on Facebook, and I have never confronted her about all of that. It was 46 years ago, and I have forgiven her because life did not treat her well. Who am I to add anger or revenge to her already shattered life? No, I moved on.
Middle School: Mr. Ackerly
Mr. Julian Ackerly was the choir teacher at my middle school…well, we called it Junior High back then because it was only 7th and 8th graders. Mr. Ackerly is the Tucson Boys Chorus director now, but I remember him to be so gentle and pleasant! I looked forward to his class because I wanted to sing. My voice wasn’t well-developed then as it is now, but I enjoy singing and listening to music! I remembered the time he put on a record (yes, a record album) of Edwin Hawkins and the Hawkins Singers. He told us about how this particular song was a crossover from Gospel to Pop. The song was “Oh Happy Day.” The class responded so well to the music too! I never heard of the song in my church because our minister at the time was more of a traditionalist, but it exposed me to music I could connect to as a young, black girl. Just a taste of Edwin Hawkins got me interested in listening to more contemporary gospel music.
But, the most exciting event in the chorus was our musical “Oliver!” We rehearsed and sang songs and rehearsed. I had a speaking part only, but I was part of the crowd and sang in the background. It was so much fun! Thank you, Dr. Ackerly, for giving me a glimpse of fun in those stressful two years of junior high!
High School: Mr. Carlton and Mr. Harper
My two English teachers who molded me!
First, Mr. Carlton, who was my Freshman Composition teacher. He taught that class with such finesse and ease. That man was full of wisdom when it came to writing. He wore practical clothes, nothing flashy; he was old-fashioned and straightforward, but allowed us to grow and ask questions in his class. Most of us stuck with him and joined Journalism, and eventually, the school newspaper. Mr. Carlton worked with me to become a writer – he taught me how to make sense, and he told me to not be afraid to write because I was worried!
Thank you, Mr. Carlton, for teaching me to embrace my writing.
Secondly, Mr. Harper was my senior year English teacher. He taught Rhetoric. It was a challenging class, but Mr. Harper was a rite of passage at Catalina High School. He was from the South but lived in Tucson for years. In fact, he taught one of my sisters! Mr. Harper had that Southern drawl and was flamboyant but not gay. He had colorful posters about English on the ceiling tiles in case we began to wander with our eyes; we are still reading if we lookup.
I remembered one day when he was lecturing about something, and one of the students was chewing gum, and of course, this was in the 80s, so her bracelets were making noises whenever she wrote, and she brought attention to herself. Mr. Harper stopped class to ask her about her bracelets but noticed her chewing. He said, Ms. Berger! Would you please stop masticating in my class?” Of course, we were dead silent because we heard the word “masticating.”
Nasty teenage minds!
He could see the shock on our faces and asked us to look up the word. We found that the word meant “chewing.”
Another incident was when I got bored and watched a guy walk across the parking lot from the window. Suddenly I heard students laughing, and Mr. Harper’s voice bellowed, “Ms. Watson! Ms. Watson – let’s see who Ms. Watson is looking at out there!”
I never peeled my eyes off from Mr. Harper again. But, thank you, Mr. Harper, for brightening my senior year.
Thank you to all of my teachers! From 1971 to 1983, I’ve encountered many teaching styles and abilities. Some teachers were outstanding, and some just wanted to get a paycheck; however, I believe that every single teacher I had cared enough to be there and help us through the most critical years of our lives. My parents taught my siblings and me that teachers were the next best thing to parents. We respected and honored our teachers; if we got in trouble, it was not the teacher’s fault, but ours!
Teaching in the 21st Century has changed a lot! Education is not revered as it was once before, and many parents do not side with their children’s teachers when it comes to assignments and discipline.
This is my idea of honoring teachers – there a few teachers who have changed my life – but if they changed my life, they might have touched others. As a teacher, I can only believe that if I can alter or affect one student’s life for the good – I’ve done my job.
To my Teachers: Thank you. Thank you for being in my life.