Teachers have been on my mind lately. The shocking murders of teachers in the United States has made me so angry, frustrated and very sad. I think back to the teachers that I have had in my long life, and it is hard to imagine that anyone was in danger. Or that school would be a dangerous place to be, as a student or as a teacher.

I went to four primary/ elementary schools (in Italy, England, The Netherlands and America) and had a variety of teachers and experiences. I loved school and the main reason was because I loved my teachers.  I loved the way they introduced us to new things. I used to think they were so smart…how did they know all those things about history, geography and books? I think I liked that things were organized in school and that the teacher would lead us from one subject to another. There was time for science and then it was time for art. There was a time for math (ugh) and a time when the teacher read a story to us. When I first came to America, in fourth grade, I was thrilled to have our teacher read to us at the end of the day. It was such a wonderful reward and I still remember that first book — JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH by Roald Dahl. I was then determined to read all of Dahl’s books and have been a fan ever since.

Middle school and high school were obviously more challenging, and the big difference was that you had more teachers. I now had 6 or 7 teachers in one day and you then got to see  a variety of styles of teaching. I think students find out what kind of teacher works best for them when you have many teachers each day.  Word would be out about certain teachers that were really hard or gave lots of homework. There were stories about teachers who were lots of fun and there were teachers who were supposedly boring. It was a learning experience for me to see how different grownups could be and that there was not one giant cookie cutter that made teachers all the same.

As you age in school you start to define yourself. You find out what subjects excite you and what you are good at. That comes from teachers who compliment you or encourage you to not give up. It comes from teachers who love the subject they teach and from those who just love to teach. And of course, you always knew the teachers that loved being around children or young people. You just knew.

When I was in junior high school, girls had to take a sewing class and boys had to take a class to do with wood—I think they all made a birdhouse. But there was no choice at that time, this was what was required. I hated sewing and in fact, I hated the IDEA of sewing. From the very beginning of class, I was terrible at anything to do with a needle or a sewing machine. Our big assignment was that we had to make a dress and then wear the dress in a fashion show during class. My idea of pure hell. I got the pattern and the material and started on this project. It did not take long for the teacher to realize how limited my talents were. I could not thread the bobbin, I could not even cut the material straight, and I certainly had no idea how make darts. My darts were pointing towards my feet, if I remember correctly. But this is the wonderful thing that happened in this sewing class: I discovered myself. In a class which should have destroyed my self-esteem, I bloomed. As we girls were working on our dresses, we had some freedom to talk and talk is what I did, instead of sew. I told stories and they laughed. It got to the point that as soon as we settled in to work, the girls would gather  and look at me for the entertainment. Soon the teacher caught on to this, and she told me that it was okay as long as I finished my dress. I remember asking her if she would let me stop sewing all together and just let me sweep the floor each day…she did not accept my brilliant proposal. So she let me be, she let me talk and basically perform as long as I had a needle in my hand. I made new friends and I got a reputation as a witty person and this led me to audition for the school play. Teachers told me that I should audition and even though I was terrified, I did and got the part.

It is all about being uplifted instead of being brought down by negativity. It was school and teachers who gave me so much happiness and so much direction. It was the environment of learning that taught me the most about myself, not just what was in books.

This blog is dedicated to all the teachers I have had in my life and to the one I now have who is trying very hard to teach me Dutch. But this blog is also for all of my friends who are teachers, as you are simply magnificent. Maybe no one has told you today but you are doing a great job and you should be thanked for ALL that you do. It is not about a blackboard or now a whiteboard, it is not about textbooks or recess, it is about you as an individual and what you have done to impact so many young lives.

By the way, I did complete the dress. It was the ugliest dress ever made, it was a very unattractive green and I got so sick of looking at it. But I did wear that dress and walked in a parade in class and I got cheers from the students, as they all knew what a miracle it was that the dress did not fall apart. My teacher told me she was proud of me and that she could safely say she had never had a student like me before, and I sure she was right. I went home, folded up that dress and put it in the back of my closet and never saw it again. Little did I realize that when I went to college I would be required to take a costuming class (for my degree in theatre) and that I would have to make a skirt…but that is another story.

Recommended reading: I just finished the latest mystery from Sue Grafton, W is for Wasted, and it another enjoyable time with Kinsey. I have no idea what Grafton plans to do when she runs out of letters, but I hope that she does not stop writing mysteries.

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