Each week, a 99Papers.org staff member sends an email to our whole office, with an inspirational message that reminds us all why we love working to improve public education. We call it the “Connect-to-Our-Mission Email of the Week.” Dave, our Art Director, sent out one last week that brought a smile (and a few tears) to all of our faces. Here it goes:
Dave’s “Connect-to-Our-Mission Email of the Week”
Maybe you’ve been hearing on NPR/ in news forums lately some education expert saying if a student can’t answer the question “Who’s your favorite teacher?” there’s trouble in their educational world. Luckily, I can say I struggle with the question because I had so many I valued. This is a write-up about one of them.
I will never forget my teacher Mrs. S. because she cried. She cried because she cared. And because she did, we all started caring about English, and maybe things in general, a little bit more.
Mrs. S looked like an English teacher. She dressed well, wearing long woolen skirts, colorful sweater vests and tops, and a dash of creative, but modest, jewelry. Her salt-n-pepper hair was cut in a short, modern way. She walked quickly and with purpose, her thin legs striding further than you thought possible. She commanded attention, but with modesty. Her mastery of the material was impressive. She recalled lengthy scenes and quotations with ease. She worked the room, fixing your gaze, involving everyone. If you were slacking, she insisted you rejoin the discussion. She was fair. She challenged me once, wondering if it were possible that I could be doodling and listening at the same time. When I answered back with a sensible contribution, she gave me a “I thought I had you but you defended yourself well and I respect that” smile. She didn’t smile easily. It had to be earned. It felt great to make her smile. Which made it feel terrible to see her cry.
She was in the middle of trying to enhance our understanding of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, emphasizing the intense struggle and torment of the character Nora. She asked some questions. She challenged some responses. She made us read some passages out loud. She was writing things down on the board. Things she wanted us to remember. Not just for the class. She always wanted us to take things with us. This is the way she taught – with passion for the subject and the hope that we would carry things with us. And then it happened. She finished writing but didn’t turn around. Things got quiet. She was crying. Her arms flopped to her sides. She waited a bit before turning around to face us.
“Well. Look at me,” she scoffed. “I’m sorry. This stuff. These characters. Well…it just gets to me.”
And then she smiled. And I’ll remember that smile for the rest of my life.