Wednesday Morning: Book Review

Small book. I have another small book called Native American Wisdom but it’s lost in my house somewhere. And I had another, called The Kiss that I gave to a great kisser as a birthday gift, but that one is lost, too.

For My Teacher. From the book cover – “This collection of quotations celebrates the teachers who have enriched our lives. It is the perfect tribute to those gifted teachers who inspired us to learn.”

A student named Grace gave me this book for my birthday in June 1999. I had been her teacher and advisor for three years of middle school, at the Colorado Springs School,, a beautiful school at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain, in, yes, Colorado Springs. I taught Ancient Civilizations to 8th graders, Geography to 6th graders and ESL history to high school students. I was also the varsity soccer coach for those three years, and even lived on campus for one year as a residence hall director. I have lived all these lives, like an ocean in disguise.

When I was 13, my English teacher at Park View Junior High School assigned a paper on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had known for maybe a year or two that history was my favorite subject, and started thinking about teaching. The assignment required us to interview people working in that profession, and I remember meeting with former teachers who told me, “I always knew you’d be a teacher.” I would love to contact some of those former teachers now. But they’re dead. Probably.

I studied history and secondary education at Stonehill College, but my work at a homeless shelter during those years, and a realization that I was 22 and wanted to expand my horizons, led me to social service work, which led to law school. But even then I was never far from teaching, coaching, working with kids. So, when I was offered the position at the Colorado Springs School, it was exactly what I’d envisioned myself doing for about the ten previous years. Except the kids were really rich.

Even when I came to Spain and worked all those years at Pressgroup, I knew I’d end up teaching. It’s just who I am, I guess. It’s in my blood. I love it. For me, the connection with students is beyond any reward any other career could offer. The knowledge that I taught something to young minds, that I had an influence on their lives and perspective on the world. That I somehow, hopefully, made them a better person, or at least tried…or, as it says in For My Teacher, “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”

There are hard days, of course. Especially the last couple years. But there have been many more days when I think, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.” I have friends who are doctors, others who are priests, and hedge fund traders. I try to imagine what that’s like. Or, let’s say, working in a supermarket, or installing refridgerators, or working on car dashboards…it’s hard to imagine all these jobs. But all those people had teachers that helped and inspired them.

Monday was the graduation here at school. I couldn’t stay for the ceremony, as tempting as it was, but I did find the graduates before they went out to graduate, many of them I had in class seven years ago. I congratulated them, thanked them, told them to please save the world, and as I walked away a group of three called to me and caught up with me. “We just wanted to say that you were our favorite teacher. Yeah, the best. And thank you.” Thank you.

More quotes from For My Teacher:

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops.

A good teacher is one who helps you become who you feel yourself to be. A good teacher is also one who says something you won’t understand until ten years later.

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