In honor of World Teachers' Day, I thought I'd relate my recollection of the most memorable teacher of my youth. A few stand out, but this one is my favorite, at least in distant hindsight.
I attended junior high school in Bozeman, Montana in the mid 1980's. During that time, I had the same teacher for English and some sort of mythology class. I have one distinct memory of that my experience teacher, as well as a general recall of the mood of her class. I remember that she was a grandmotherly personality (well, from a twelve-year-old's perspective), but a very boisterous one. She was outgoing and engaging, but without being intimidating. She would have had to be to teach sentence diagramming and punctuation to adolescents, I suppose. She was clearly very intelligent.
She had lovely red hair, which somehow made her even more interesting. She often wore dark green clothing to coordinate with it. I looked forward to her class, which is to say that I didn't dread sitting through it like some others.
One afternoon, in the middle of a lesson on vocabulary, someone apparently mis-emphasized a syllable in a word we were discussing. She cheerfully mentioned that the student had placed the vocal accent on the wrong syllable. However, to make her point, she pronounced the words ak-SENT and sil-AHH-buhl. The effect was almost one of sophistication, as though she were emulating the haughty speech of an aristocrat. That misinterpretation would prove to be my undoing.
In a burst of juvenile intellectual enthusiasm I completely missed the intentional irony, and promptly consulted my school-issued dictionary. Sure enough, "syllable" is pronounced SIL-uh-buhl. I knew it! I had discovered of a foible in this language guru. Pointing it out would surely earn me rapport.
I proudly and somewhat brashly raised my hand. When called upon, I pointed out her mistake, fully expecting appreciative acclaim for my perceptiveness. Naturally, she burst into gleeful guffaws. When her mirth subsided she explained to a very confused boy that she had used that line for years, and never before had anyone actually looked it up.
It took me several moments more to understand the meaning of what had just occurred. It wouldn't be the last time I inserted my foot in my mouth.
That teacher, and I wish I could recall her name, made an impression on me. Her exuberant stories of Greek and Roman gods, and her conspicuous love of reading and writing quietly conveyed their potential significance to our young lives. I don't believe I took it very deeply to heart at the time, but the message stuck in the back of my mind. Decades later I would return to those subjects and countless others with renewed scholarship, thanks to her and others like her.
Good teachers arouse interest, passion, and latent ability in children that others in their small worlds may not. They open eyes and minds, and in doing so open doors of opportunity, satisfaction and happiness. This is their true value. Their dedication does not go unnoticed.
Happy World Teachers' Day.
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