Two views of school, from both sides of the teacher's desk
Regard for teaching is often considered a lost tradition in the United States. Those who devote endless hours to educating America's children who often hold onto threadbare hopes of making a difference or of reweaving the tattered fabric of society sometimes receive only glib praise, at best.
But two new books aim to cast a spotlight on the impact teachers can make.
In "I Remember My Teacher: 365 Reminiscences of the Teachers Who Changed Our Lives" (Andrews McMeel Publishing), Boston Globe Washington bureau chief David Shribman questioned virtually everyone he encountered over the course of a year on the role teachers had played in their lives.
Cab drivers, governors, actors, and coal miners alike share their inspirational, and often humorous, stories.
One teacher remembers her high school French teacher "who demonstrated the difference between en and dans by jumping into the wastebasket and getting stuck there."
A writer relates how she learned about flying buttresses in Western civilization class: The students all stood up and pretended to be the architectural structures.
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, whose immigrant mother could barely read English, remembers most his first teacher "who opened a book and read a story to me. No one had ever done that for me before."
Then there's the second-grade teacher who let a young George Stephanopoulos go to the library whenever he was bored in class, and Sister Patricia, a favorite teacher of former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, who once told her, "You can fly, but that cocoon has to go."
What about Mr. Shribman's favorite teacher?
It was his Duke University engineering professor, Robert Barr, "who, as I debated changing majors, told me I might not know it yet, but he knew I would be a success. Words he spoke to support me through a challenging period still provide strength," he says.
Shribman says inspiration for the book came after he received an enormous response to a column he once wrote that celebrated great teachers. So he started asking the people he encountered at movie theaters, hockey games, even while reporting, about their favorite teachers.
"I got such spectacular answers," he says, adding, "I hope this book will help others, especially as graduation nears, to remember their favorite teachers, too."
Equally inspiring is "Stories of the Courage to Teach" (Jossey-Bass), a collection of essays written by teachers at every level of practice. The book, edited by Smith College professor Sam Intrator, honors teachers who struggle to rekindle their passion for teaching.
The personal experiences offer a range of warmth, humor, practical tips, and wisdom.
One teacher explains how he struggled to connect his high school students more deeply with one another, and the solution that actually worked: a now-yearly assignment on the meaning of life.
A burned-out junior-high teacher, meanwhile, explains with heartfelt prose how "The Wizard of Oz" lent him fresh perspective on his job.
Though it was easy for him to complain about overcrowded classes, inadequate supplies, and low teacher pay, he suddenly thought of his pretentious attitude as the magnificent Oz and realized his students were worth his making the effort to act more like the little man behind the curtain.
These books are good reads and good reminders to let our favorite teachers know our appreciation.