By David Stone | Collaborating columnist
Whether you’re choosing a thank you card, a blog post, or writing part of your personal memoir, this week is the perfect time to write about the impact your teachers have had on you.
Teacher Appreciation Week is held the first week of May each year, Monday through Friday. Some of the most precious gifts I have received as a teacher have been letters or cards my students have written, sharing their memories of our time together.
Now that I have graduated from high school at 35, almost all of my primary teachers and many of my secondary teachers have died. Writing about them allows me to honor them and to reconsider what I have learned from each of them.
Ms. Male taught me science in eighth grade. She reminded me of Bea Arthur who played Maude and later Dorothy in the “Golden Girls”. Tall and broad-shouldered, Mrs. Male stood with a commanding presence and spoke with a keen sense of wit. A commanding presence was a blessing when you were a middle school teacher in the 1970s with the opposite sex last name. She was actually married to an Episcopalian priest, Father Male. Her students affectionately called her Mother Male.
Mother Male has created her own collection of aphorisms and adages, terms that she has thoughtfully defined for us. I would like to have a copy of his book today. I couldn’t repeat any of his sayings now, but I’ve maintained a deep appreciation for well-crafted sentences ever since.
Mother Male taught me scientific classification in a way that I have never forgotten. She led us to her class in a Mambo line. Kicking our feet and waving our arms, we sang with emphatic rhythm and movement: “Each realm is divided into phyla, class, order – family, genus, species. Yes! Phylum, class, order – family, genus, species. Yo!”
Mother Male also sent me to the only detention I ever did in college. Frustrated by our mouth smacking when we were supposed to work in silence, she threatened that the next student who spoke would be held in detention. Moments later, I asked my classmate Stephen for a sheet of notebook paper and was given the single sentence of detention necessary to compel the rest of the class to comply for the remainder of the term.
In detention, I was asked to write an essay describing the incident that brought me there and what I learned. As a budding poet, I’ve included rhyming lines titled “Witch’s Words”. I wrote: “Just a glance / and the devil will reap, / keeping your soul / as a toll. / You can scream until you hit a beam, / but you’ll still be steaming / until ’til you’re heavy cream. / Then your head will be spread / on a big piece of bread / and you’ll be crunchy / for brunch.
My cheeky poem didn’t get me into more trouble, but rather brought me the affirmation of Mother Male and my English teacher who fought so that I, a dyslexic student who had been diagnosed at the maternal, is considered gifted. I never got the status change from the school district, but Mother Male and my English teacher helped me change my view of myself. I started thinking of myself as a writer.
Like most other writing, writing an educational memento begins with collecting details. You can start by making a list of each of your elementary school teachers year by year, or make a superlative list of your middle school and high school teachers: who was your funniest teacher? Who was your most caring teacher? Which teacher inspired you the most? A good description starts with specific names. Forgive yourself if you don’t remember immediately. If you have access to it, consult your directories or your photo albums to help you. What a great excuse to connect with a sibling or classmate to share information about a teacher who taught you both.
“The details create the big picture,” says financier Sanford Weill. Telling concrete and precise details brings our memories back to life. Think about the sights, sounds, textures, tastes and smells you associate with your teacher. Ms Male wore a white lab coat with a number 9 on the pocket on one side and her nickname embroidered in black on the other. She introduces herself as a scientist. Making a simile through simile or metaphor can say so much in so few words. Ms. Male delivered her humor as Maude.
The best way to share our memories of our teachers is through stories. What they did often goes beyond what they said. Their importance shines through in the stories we share. Write about the obstacles they helped you overcome, the care and inspiration they provided through their behavior, and the insights and meaning they helped you discover. Like a good biographer, share the story and state its meaning.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it,” said William Arthur Ward, “is like wrapping a present and not giving it. Don’t wait. Write down how your teachers influenced you.
David Stone is a poet who teaches English at Loma Linda Academy. www.writestone.com