Teacher Appreciation Week

As teacher appreciation week comes to an end, I want to write about a few of my K-12 teachers, whose lessons remain in my life though we parted ways decades ago.

Mrs. Kelly, who singled me out and made me feel special.  In 3rd grade, she gave me my first stage role – a flower, in Alice in Wonderland (I got to say part of “Jabberwocky” and can still recite the whole poem).  In 7th grade, she gave me a leading role in the musical.  A year later, she didn’t give me the part I wanted, and I learned that I would not die from disappointment.  She wrote our shows.  She took us to a real recording studio to make tapes of the music.  She gave us a taste of professional excellence.

Mrs. Fay, who had a poster of of Kareem Abdul Jabbar with inches and feet on it, against which we could measure ourselves. She wouldn’t let us finish sentences if we spoke incorrectly (“My mother, she went…” meant we had to shut up). She let me roll a graphite-covered quarter down her face on April Fool’s Day.  Unlike our school librarian, who advised me to stop reading the Sweet Valley High “trash” I kept checking out, Mrs. Fay gave me extra credit for every book report I wrote on that series (poor woman; I wrote lots).  She knew better than to dissuade a child from reading. 

Mrs. Adamik, who challenged me with literature I didn’t understand yet, who made me memorize and recite my pronouns, and who gently told me that maybe I didn’t need to wear eight scrunchies in my hair.  She gave me singing lessons at her house.  She came to an audition for a non-school production of The Sound of Music with me, and she too auditioned.  She wound up playing the Mother Abbess and I played a novice, and that rehearsal process became my first opportunity to know a teacher as a person outside of the classroom.

Mr. Nordmark, who never accepted a single late assignment, not even from kids like me who worked hard and rarely screwed around.  He taught me the value of getting things done by the set deadline, and he demonstrated absolute fairness – if he had favorites, he didn’t treat them that way.  He also made us take notes – proper notes, TONS of notes – which he explicitly taught us how to take.  From him I learned how to process a dense lecture and study intelligently for an exam – precisely the skills that would allow me to succeed in college. 

Mr. Arkle, who blew my mind when he assigned us an E-Prime* essay. I already loved to write, but I always did it quickly, with abandon.  E-Prime forced me to choose each word with care.  It opened my eyes to the power of being deliberate, of saying precisely what I meant rather than approximating. It also introduced me to the power of revision, of searching for weaknesses and eliminating them (a process I enjoy to this day).

I could go on.  I could write about the Roehls, Father Terry, my college and graduate professors, my parents, my choir and theatre directors, my coaches, my professional mentors.  My gratitude would go on for pages.  Volumes.  Ever.

But for now: A shout out to everyone who ever took the time to teach me anything.  I try to put that education to good use every day.  Your influence continues.

Thank you. 

*I wrote this post in E-Prime. 

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