By Sister Jean McGrath
Stopped at a traffic light last week, I noticed the bumper sticker on the van in front of me: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”
Late August and early September days have for most of my life, been like New Year’s Eve. I treasure fond memories of my own days as a student when I marched into school wearing a crisp plaid uniform and carrying a backpack with a brand-new box of 48 crayons, (can you identify “burnt umber” today?) a nifty pencil sharpener, and a pink pearl eraser. Later, more sophisticated high school supplies included gel pens in every color, a multi-function calculator, and an American Literature Book the size of a large telephone directory. (Who remembers the white and yellow pages of telephone directories?)
I entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in LaGrange, aware that with few exceptions, most in the community were teachers working in multiple schools throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Like my predecessors, as a teacher, September meant new groups of students, empty lesson plan books, full size pieces of chalk and trying to find a creative idea for bulletin board displays.
That was then and this is now.
Students beginning school in 2021 face a very different school experience than I did those many years ago. IPads and the internet have opened immense opportunities for contemporary scholars of every age. However, the role of the teacher is more important than ever and as the new school year begins, I think it is important to applaud what teachers do each and every day, especially in these COVID-19 times.
The shift to remote or “e-learning” that most teachers had to master in a relatively short period of time was remarkable. “Zooming” with students challenged them to re-design their curriculum and establish a cyber-space relationship with students that was very different from the usual daily encounters of the traditional classroom. Stories of the clever and creative ways teachers responded to the demands of the COVID-19 classroom are awesome and inspiring. Teachers often delivered assignments directly to the homes of their students, were available for countless after hour meetings, and communicated effectively with parents, many working from home themselves. An internet glitch could pause daily instruction for a single student or an entire class. Yet, because of their professionalism, dedication, and ability to respond to any crisis, students continued to learn, despite a very different environment. Kudos to our teachers!
Last week as I watched a group of first graders wait to enter our parish school building, I thought about the teachers who had a profound effect on my own life. I thought about Sister Jesse who ended each school day by reading Little House on the Prairie or other stories to our fifth-grade class. I marveled at the patience of my geometry teacher, Miss Gladstone, who promised that math phobia was a curable disease. I thought about Sister Noreen who dismissed a friend and me during glee club practice because something or someone had sparked that kind of uncontrollable laughter that usually only happens in Church. We waited sheepishly after class for what we thought would surely be the end of our acapella high school careers. Instead, Sister graciously forgave us admitting that she too sometimes caught the giggles. I learned much about the power of forgiveness that day. Later, college teachers would help me to think more critically and strive to be a life-long learner.
Our lives are shaped by so many persons, experiences and events. With the exception of parents and siblings, our teachers from pre-school through post college years have the most profound influence on our formative years and help shape the persons we become.
I recently tried to remember the names of the many teachers I had and the things I remembered about each. Some were just a name; others I realized taught me so much more than their specific subject matter. I invite you to take the time to reflect on the women and men who were your teachers, your mentors, your role models, and yes, even your challengers. I think you will find the experience a wonderful opportunity to realize the blessings each was in your life. And, perhaps as you can read this, you will thank a teacher.
About the Author
After years as a Catholic School Principal, Sister Jean McGrath is looking forward to volunteer service now that she has retired. She loves a good book, a good conversation and a good bargain!