National Teacher’s Day: Reflecting on My Teachers

Many celebrated National Teacher Day yesterday by posting images of their favorite teacher on social networking sites. I didn’t because I don’t have a favorite teacher, never have. I can remember when I began taking education classes and the professors would ask us to talk about our favorite teachers, the one who inspired us to teach, because we would most like emulate this person. No one came to my mind.

I wish I could ask my parents if there were any teachers I talked about constantly (in a good way) as a child. Perhaps someone connected with me then, but I cannot think of any teacher who inspired me, reached out to me or connected with me in a special way. I can name all of my K-8 teachers and many of my high school and college educators. I know that Dr. Smith, my Black History professor, was my first black teacher. I remember that my mom loved Sister Mary Joyce, my first grade teacher. Miss Langenderfer was the only teacher who had both my brother and myself in the their class. Mrs Cramer thought I had scoliosis and my parents appreciated her lookout. (I didn’t have it.) My 4th grade teacher was new to the school that year and was teaching way below the high school students she was used to teaching. She was the only blatantly racist teacher I can remember having.

First, let me tell you that my grade school education was in a 1-8th grade Catholic school. I was the first Black to attend there 1st through 8th grade and there were all of three Blacks and two Latinas in this class of just over 100. I believe my brother was the only black in his class.

My fourth grade teacher had us read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. She also decided my speech wasn’t good enough so, she had me (and two other students) memorize and recite poems to the class. Her contract was not renewed.

Years after I finished school and even after I had my own children, I learned from my parents that during parent teacher conferences my teachers would tell them they couldn’t believe how smart I was, that I could do the work so well. Consequently, they never expected more of me and the never encouraged me with regards to any opportunities. I do remember writing a Mother’s Day poem in the second grade that was so good the teacher kept it and my mother never saw when. When I composed a creed in high school that my teacher liked, she did let me copy it before she kept it. The next year, I wrote a story for my US History teacher that she doubted I wrote.

Junior year, when I wanted to go to France with my classmates, it was highly discouraged for me to go because of my color. I don’t know if teachers thought discrimination would be any worse there (HA!) or what the problem was as this was not told to me until years later.

Don’t take from this that I am this brilliant person who overcame obstacles or that I need pity because of the situations I was in because that’s not my point. Do take from this a warning about the situations our children continue to be placed in. If I told you the names of the private schools and public university I attended, you would think I had a top notch education. Rather, I was marginalized from opportune learning experiences. I came up in a time when parents trusted teachers to know better and to their best. My parents chose good schools and expected good results. Teachers today may or may not be so blatant with their racism, but be present in your children’s schools. Get a feel for the expectations they set for your child. I was never pushed to excel in grade school or high school and I was smart enough to figure out how much I could do to create an acceptable product. As a result, my college grades were acceptable. I’ve grown into someone who loves to learn, is self motivating and pretty daggone creative with no pictures of any teachers to post and thank. I wonder what did motivate me to want to teach?

I bet many of you have teachers or librarians you could mention who did much to inspire you!