Monday, August 25, 2014

The Blessing of Wonderful Teachers: A Look Back

Today I sent four of my six children to school—a high school sophomore, an 8th grader, a 5th grader, and a 2nd grader.  Next year we will have a kindergartner to add to the list.  This is also the beginning of our second year of 18 years of early morning seminary.  Last night, as their father, I had the special privilege of giving each of them a blessing as they go into another school year. 

Education is a wonderful thing.  I have thought much about the teachers who have blessed my life throughout the years.  Their efforts haven’t impacted only me but also the lives of my wife, my children, and others.  Much of my professional life has revolved around education. 

The following talk by Howard W. Hunter in a the April 1972 General Conference is a wonderful example of what teachers do, especially the great teachers.  I would encourage everyone to listen to or read his talk.  It’s only a few paragraphs.  The talk is titled A Teacher.

Elder Harold G. Hillam said the following about teachers:

“Everyone can remember a special teacher that has made a profound difference in their life.  I will ever be thankful to Miss Hamilton, my second-grade teacher.  She was also my Sunday School teacher.  I can still recall her saying, 'Now remember, always be a good boy!' and 'I am so proud of you.'  She always made me feel very important.  I grew to lover her, and I’m sure she loved me.  That school year was a glorious one.”

Looking back I thought on what I gained from each of my wonderful teachers in elementary school.  Here are a few things I’d like to share.

Mrs. Thompson, Kindergarten:
She was wonderful and gentle.  With skill and tenderness she taught a group of young children that school could be fun and exciting.  As one of her students she helped me through an embarrassing situation by making sure that no one else knew that I had an accident.  She taught me that there was compassion in the world outside of the home. 

Ms. Harris, Music and Resource Teacher:
She was an amazing piano player who loved to teach young children to sing.  I loved to sing the wonderful patriotic songs that she shared with us.  As she taught some of the songs she shared stories and the history behind the songs.  During first grade I was a bit lazy in my efforts to speak and a do a few other things.  I was identified as needing extra help and was put into Ms. Harris’ resource class with a few other first graders.  She was patient with me until she realized that I was just lazy, then she took all of the joy out of the experience and made me work up to my potential.

Ms. Bulloch, 1st Grade:
In first grade I struggled with my identity.  I loved learning but I also loved playing.  Often I played at the expense of other, more important things.  This desire to play likely contributed to my laziness described above.  One day another friend and I managed to embarrass Ms. Bulloch in front of the all of the high schoolers as she was forced to come find us well after our lunch recess had ended.  We were in the lunchroom entertaining all the big kids to include engaging them in a wicked food fight.  Despite my ability to make Ms. Bulloch angry, she worked hard to teach me that learning could be fun.  Several times I was surprised that she would be nice to me after some of the things I did and said.  I will never forget the day that she had me attend a parent teacher conference with my parents.  She was kind in speaking about my potential and brutally honest about my lack of performance and poor behavior.  After that conference I never wanted to disappoint her again.

Mrs. H, 2nd Grade:
Every student who knew her considered Mrs. H mean.  She was mean enough that I regressed and found some pleasure in acting out.  Whatever I didn’t like about her, she was effective at what she did.  That year I was proud of all of the things I learned to include my times tables.  I learned that writing the sentence, “I will not stick crayons in my nose or ears,” five hundred times is not fun.  Good behavior is its own reward.  She also taught me to laugh through adversity as she sat me behind a folding closet door in the middle of the classroom and taped my shut with masking tape.  That day I managed to loosen the bottom of the tape and make funny faces at a few of my friends around the edge of the closet.  Unfortunately, their reaction caused a few of them to join me in my punishment.

Mr. Hinton, 3rd Grade:
He brought a love of technology.  This was the first year that I ever used a computer.  We were some of the first students in the school to play Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego.  He taught us how to do computer programming.  One of our special projects was the year was to write and illustrate our own book.  We had our books published and put in the school library.  I still have a copy of the book on my shelf today.  The Three Kittens.  Mr. Hinton gave me a love of technology (a healthy love, not the kind to make me a programmer) and a love of writing.

Mr. Neria, 4th Grade:
Our class learned to laugh and enjoy life.  We laughed at things that were funny.  We laughed when things were difficult.  We laughed at our differences.  We laughed at our similarities.  He taught us to love and accept everyone.  He allowed us to express ourselves, but brought us back into line with a well-thrown piece of chalk to the head.  Some of us would get behind on our class work intentionally so we could spend recess in class to work on our assignments so that he could make us laugh more.  He taught us to enjoy life.

Mrs. Bowers, 5th Grade:
I loved to read before 5th grade, but I learned to love literature from Mrs. Bowers.  She taught us to use our imaginations because she used hers.  Nobody has enjoyed the book The Black Cauldron the way class did.  Her Gurgi voice is unforgettable.  She taught us what it means to give yourself fully to something the way she did for us whenever she was in the classroom.  Because of Mrs. Bowers I knew that I wanted to be creative, in my own way, for the rest of my life.  My youngest son loves to use the word epic to describe anything remotely fun or kind of neat.  I learned the true meaning of the word as I participated in her epic reading parties in class.  The combination of books, candy, and laughter was amazing.  Finally, she taught us that we live in a multi-cultural world where our differences should be celebrated and enjoyed.

Mrs. Seamons, 6th Grade:
This was a year of transition for me.  Mrs. Seamons was key to that transition.  She instilled a sense of maturity and purpose into my life.  Life had a greater purpose than just fun.  We must accomplish something with our time.  During that year we worked hard and learned.  It was that year that I was introduced to the wider world.  We learned about Europe and other exotic places.  I developed a burning desire to see the world and to get to know new people and languages.  That desire directly impacted my university education and career.

Mr. Foy, Mrs. White, and Mr. Caldwell:
These two wonderful principals and school secretary taught me how to square dance, waltz, and do the polka.  For one or two years I was on the school dance team.  All we did was go to Myton Elementary and maybe one other place to perform our dances, but it was an amazing experience.  It was the last time anybody actually thought I could dance.  Mr. Caldwell also coached our elementary basketball team and taught us how to play football.  He changed the way I watched football games on television.

I’m grateful for those who taught me and for those who are teaching my children today.  For the most part, I didn’t realize I was learning these lessons while in school.  Looking back, however, I can see clearly what they did for me.  They had a significant impact in my life, helping to make me better than I would have been without them.