Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Hug a Teacher for Those Who Can't

Today is National Teacher Day. My mother taught in the Virginia community college system for about 35 years. (Although not technically a part of the public schools as the National Education Association defines them--not K-12--I'm going to talk about Mom for a bit here anyway.) My mother taught English composition, public speaking, world literature, and so on--5 classes a semester (and before that, per quarter) for 35 years. She loved it so much she often commented that she would have done it for free. Although speaking as her daughter, I'm glad she got paid because (a) society has an unfortunate tendency to undervalue donated labor and (b) I needed new blue jeans.

She was the same kind of teacher as she is a mother: Warm, compassionate, intelligent, kind--and witty, with just a hint of sarcasm. Students still come back to her 10 and 20 years later to say, "You changed my life. I never liked to read before I met you." Her students--many of them the first ever in their families to attend an institution of higher learning of any kind--finally "got it" about education when they stepped into her classroom.

Because she taught in the CC system, her duties didn't include publishing papers to get tenure. Technically, she didn't have tenure, just status as a state employee. As the years went by and she saw how her fellow English teachers at tenure-granting universities struggled to find something--anything--to write about that would send them down the road to tenure, she would say she was glad "all" she had to do was teach. And work on committees. And advise younger teachers. And be a good shoulder to cry on for her friends when they had trouble with their marriages, their jobs, or their children.

In a way it's too bad, though,because she's got a very sharp intelligence and probably would have written something worth reading, even in the often unreadable world of academic research.

So happy Teacher's Day, Mom. It's totally appropriate that this holiday falls during the same week as Mother's Day. You've been the best at both.


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