Friday, July 20, 2012

A Tribute to Teachers

Shelby Warner is a Reference Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

A few weeks ago children were let out of school for the summer vacation and across the land one could hear that old ditty, “No more homework, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.”

As these words run through my mind, I remember all the teachers I have known - first grade, Mrs. Fleming; second grade, Mrs. Wilson; third grade, Mrs. Lunsford. I can name them all right up through the 12th grade and tell you what was special about each one. They had an impact on me that will always be a part of my life.

It’s summer, children are enjoying a break from school and so are their teachers. And, well they deserve it. I don’t know of a more demanding job than having the care of so many children with all the expectations of the community. We owe a big tribute to all good teachers – not just those named “teachers of the year” – but all teachers who do the job and do it well. Suddenly, Jesse Mavro comes to mind.

Jesse was one of my college professors 25 years ago. She taught creative writing – a class which strongly influenced my life. It did so because it gave me confidence in myself and my writing. Jesse called her ability to teach and her talent for writing “gifts”. She was a gentle, soft spoken poet whose control in the classroom was achieved by a “circle of respect”. She respected her students and let them know it. They respected her in return.

Jesse Mavro “taught by feel” and had a rare and effective ability to sense what would best help a class to learn. She said her success as a teacher came at those times she taught with love. “I think the student needs to feel the teacher is ready to like them and respect what they think and feel about things.”

For Ms. Mavro, the most effective part of her teaching was her attitude toward learning. “I love to learn myself and I want to transfer that to my students. I want to walk into the classroom and say to them, I love learning and I know you can love it, too.” She saw this attitude as essential to teaching.

Obviously, I admire her for how she influenced my life. Jesse, however, was a college professor teaching students who, we assume, wanted to learn. Such is not always the case in our elementary and secondary schools where teachers often have to struggle day in and day out with students not only resistant to learning but also with learning difficulties. It is these teachers, along with the Jesse Mavros of our lives who deserve our strong support and respect. Let us pay them the tribute they well deserve.

As I was writing this article, Janna Bremer, a dear friend who was a teacher, passed away. I attended her funeral, of course, and was not amazed to find the sanctuary filled to capacity with friends, colleagues, and former students. They came to honor their friend and mentor. Several spoke of the varied ways in which Janna had “taught” them. It was not always in the classroom but also on the playing field and wherever she interacted with people. That’s what teachers do. They teach and inspire wherever they are. Teachers make us better people. One of her co-workers spoke of Janna’s commitment to kids, the quality of their education and the communities in which they live. It was a fine tribute to Janna and good teachers everywhere.

If you would like to read some of the newer books about teachers, here are a few delightful ones I discovered when I checked the library catalogue.

My favorite was “What Teachers Make” by Taylor Mali. This book was inspired by a question put to Mali by a cynical lawyer. He had money in mind when he asked, “What do teachers make?” Part of Mali’s answer comes at the end of one of the many poems included in the book.

“Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true; Teachers? Teachers make a difference. Now what about you?”

I think every teacher will appreciate Mali’s passion for teaching and his insightful wisdom. However, it is a book for all of us – not just teachers.

Another new book is “Teacher’s Matter” by Marcus A. Winters. This one is sure to stimulate many a discussion. It will be controversial because it poses important questions. Chapter 2 asks, “How important Are Teachers?”, a chapter in which Winters questions a system which allows bad teachers to continue teaching and does not identify and reward good teachers. This book is a thought provoking read.

Three others I would mention are “Terrific Women Teachers” by Helen Wolfe, “Conversations with Great Teachers” by Bill Smoot, and “Mentors, Muses and Monsters”, edited by Elizabeth Benedict. The latter reminds us, again, that not all teachers are in the classroom.

These books and others on teaching and teachers are available at Morrill Memorial Library or through the Minuteman Library Network.