Ode to teachers (including parents)

Published in the Gettysburg Times, 8/23/2013)

I’m proud of my daughter. And of her sister, which is how the former introduced me to the latter, a young woman about to become, in those early college days, a BFF. Cat’s in South Carolina now, her “sister” in Georgia. One has this year joined her school’s administrative ranks, the other is adding certifications for Special Education students.

Teachers and parents have the most important jobs in any culture. They are the ones who pass on the lore of the tribe and teach us how to mingle with our fellow planetary inhabitants.

When I retired from the Navy (longer ago than it took to become retirement-eligible) my mother said, “You like to write. Get a teaching degree. You’ll work six months, and have summers to hide out in the woods and write.”

The latter part was her recognition that in my core, I’m a bit of a Bohemian. In her mind, I could spend one part of the year earning a living (which I’d never do by writing, she reckoned) and spend the other part wandering among the trees and streams of whichever forest was available.

I went to college, enrolled in Secondary English. Simultaneously, I was picked up as a newspaper reporter, and covered three school districts. The latter taught me why I had no place in the former.

Teaching is a year-round calling. Between classes, teachers pursue advanced degrees and certifications, often at their own expense, and tear down and rebuild their classrooms. One summer vacation day while visiting Cat, I and her spouse helped build book cases in her classroom.

While we grouse about rising taxes, and fault unions for seeking medical benefits, they try to figure out how to reach 28 students – some of whom are not as quick to “get it” as others, or have not had a hot meal in a couple days, or haven’t seen their parents except brief sightings between off work and bedtime.

Some kids have parents who complain when Missy’s college prospects are placed at risk by the D that actually was the appropriate grade on the latest English paper. Or parents who call for a teacher to be fired when a youngster arrived home to say some of the statues at the museum of art the class visited were nude.(True story about a teacher in Texas.)

It’s easy to criticize teachers who don’t send 100 percent of our offspring to those Higher Learning factories, the main purpose of which, in too many cases, seems to be to enslave our kids to credit cards and their parents to second and third mortgages.

But we do send many of our young people to college, and many of them become engineers and lawyers and doctors. And – some of them – reasonably successful, if not wealthy, writers.

My high school English teacher, Mrs. Knox, taught me to write, partly by failing a paper that used “a lot of” when “multitude” or “plethora” would have better suited.

My dad taught me to take care of my tools, and my mom kept me supplied with books by Leon Uris, James A. Michener and others who took me to places I thought I’d never see in person. Books taught me to drive a car and fly a plane (though it was many years before I “discovered” the best way to learn to do something is to be able to visualize yourself doing it). And a book titled “Peaceable Lane” was the first to make me conscious of the way cultures and races treat each other.

Every CEO or President of a company or nation can look back to parents and teachers who incited their interest in what turned out to be their chosen lives. I write about what others have done, or what I wish they would do. Parents and Teachers prepare them to do it.

But pardon me, please, for being especially proud of the two who call me Dad.

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