Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Teach, Therefore I Inspire

Don't you wish that were the motto of every instructor we encounter during the course of our and our children's lives? It's not, of course; I can name a lot more boring and mediocre teachers than I can inspiring ones in the nearly fifty years I've spent in my own and my sons' classrooms. Isn't that sad? On the other hand, the good ones are so life-changing that they almost make the dull teachers worth enduring.

This week on my Your Daily Poem website, I featured a poem by Edwin Romond, who taught English in Wisconsin and New Jersey for 32 years before retiring. The first time I read it, when Edwin submitted it to YDP for consideration along with several others, I cried. I cried because the impact and sweetness of his memory are so profound. I cried because this poem brought to mind my own life-changing moments in school--passing blips of activity or conversation, seemingly insignificant at the time, that nonetheless buried themselves in my brain and still resonate half a century later. I cried because I fear today's students are missing out on these moments because teachers are so burdened with covering what's on THE TEST (pick one; they seem to be endless) that they can't spare an unscripted, serendipitous hour to gush over the gossamer art of butterfly wings or discuss why a rainy day makes us feel so melancholy. They certainly wouldn't derail the day's syllabus to sing beautiful ethnic ballads; most schools don't even have music class anymore and if they're lucky enough to still have a music teacher, there's probably some law in place by now that says you can't sing ethnic songs because it might offend somebody. . .or if you sing one ethnic ballad, you have to sing them all. (But then, chances are, today's students don't know any ethnic ballads anyway because their music education is coming from iPods and "American Idol," but I think that's a blog for another day.)

In any case, I wanted to share Edwin's wonderful poem with you (see link below). And I want to encourage you to appreciate those teachers in your life who give inspiration along with information; if you have any pull with legislators, please remind them that the classroom should be a place for learning, not memorization, and certainly not simply for prepping to pass a test. Being well educated encompasses soooooo much more than being able to diagram a sentence, dissect an earthworm, or determine a square root. It's being able to identify and savor special moments in life, connect with and care for our fellow man, spawn new ideas and create works of art born of nothing more than ingenuity.

Here's a suggestion: next time you need to give a teacher a gift (and June is just around the corner), instead of the ubiquitous Starbucks gift card, give Edwin Romond's wonderful book, Dream Teaching. Poetry book not your style? Here are some other wonderful books that recognize and celebrate extraordinary teachers:

  • Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt
  • The Thread that Runs So True: A Mountain School Teacher Tells His Story, by Jesse Stuart
  • The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, by Parker Palmer
  • Mentors, Masters, and Mrs. McGregor, by Jane Bluestein
  • Extraordinary Teachers, by Fred Stephenson, Jr.

It's important that we reward outstanding teachers--by buying their books, praising them to their superiors, giving them thoughtful gifts, thanking them--frequently--and recalling their magic long after their tenure has ended. And remember: it's never to late to tell a teacher how he or she made a difference in your life.

Here's a review of Edwin's book by George Mason University instructor Erica Jacobs, and here is Edwin's beautiful poem, "Everything About Egypt." (If you cry when you read it, it's okay; you're one of many!)

Want to share a life-changing classroom moment of your own? I'd love to hear about it here!


glenda said...

I so agree with you on praising teachers who make a difference.
I had only a couple of teachers in my youth who instilled a life long love for learning. My first was Mrs. Chapman who read to us every day in third grade. She read the Miss Minerva books and she read the dialect perfectly. I recently bought Miss Minerva and William Greenhill and was amazed when I saw almost the entire book was written in dialect. I am sure the reading of this book would not be allowed in this day and time.
Mrs.Chapman was an exemplary teacher who inspired a love for books that brings me to dispair when I have to give some away due to lack of space.

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer said...

I'm sure Mrs. Chapman would understand running out of room for books, Glenda! Teachers who emphasized reading and writing were always my favorites, of course but, in definite contradiction to the stereotype, two of my BEST teachers were coaches. Jim Youmans actually made me understand Algebra I (no small feat, that!)and Joe Hall made world geography absolutely riveting--proof positive that a gifted teacher is capable of anything!

Joe Sottile said...

“I Teach, Therefore I Inspire” and “What Lies Ahead” are both wonderful piece of writing. Maybe one of them could be published in Newsweek’s “My Turn”. Yes, I love to look at books, touch books, and collect books. In my den I have bookcases of all sizes and shapes filled with books, and family photos. Books and photos capture moments in our lives that help define us.

I wasn’t always a book lover. The book that changed my life was Catcher in the Rye. I couldn’t believe how authentic J. D. Salinger was as a writer. And I read it at the perfect age: 16. I wanted to be like him as a writer, and never be a phony. I also wanted to teach. I did happily for thirty-three years. And, now, I actually dream periodically about finding my class and teaching again. So, I try to get into classes and do poetry performances as much as I can. But it’s so challenging to work around the I-got-to-teach-for-the-test teachers. They need to realize that teaching about “Egypt” isn’t as important as making poetry connections and establishing rapport with kids that are hungry for words that shed life on their own existence on Planet Earth. At the end of my “Tribute” section on my Web site, I have a poem written by a former student that I will treasure to my dying days. What a superb gift from a student. You will find the poem by following this site…

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer said...

In the pictures on your tribute page, I think the expressions on the faces of the students and teacher you're working with say a lot! Learning should be exciting, not boring--and when teachers opt for the easy way out, it's the students who pay for that laziness. I don't think I have it in me to be a great teacher day after day, but I LOVE doing poetry and creative writing workshops and getting kids jazzed about the power of words. Sounds like you instilled the joy of reading and writing in a lot of students, Joe--and are still at it!