Remembering my own top teachers

Published 8:10 pm Saturday, March 2, 2013

Katie Halstead seems to have the right idea. I loved reading this week about her thoughts on how important it is to keep children engaged in order to improve their educational outcomes. Her strategies helped earn her the designation last week as Suffolk’s 2013 Citywide Teacher of the Year.

Halstead’s story also caused me to think back on the teachers who made a difference in my own life. All of them were important, but some stood out from the crowd.

It all started, of course, with Mrs. Grimes, the kindergarten teacher who convinced me that no matter how many kids I could get to laugh by licking the sole of my shoe as we prepared for naptime, it just wasn’t a good idea for me to do it. As I recall, though, the lesson was not an easy one to learn. Which explains why I’m still a goof at completely inappropriate moments. I’m not sure what it says about my palate.

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There was Mrs. Branch, who once spanked an entire second-grade class, except for my girlfriend and I, who were the only ones to own up to being among the crowd that turned her classroom into a zoo party when she stepped out to go to the office one day. For being honest about our roles, we were sent into the hallway while justice was served to the others. From Mrs. Branch, I learned grace.

There was Mrs. Thaggart in the sixth grade, whose special attention I’d attracted two years before, when school administrators recognized a talent for English and moved me into her grade for that class each day. Her personal guidance for three years laid a foundation in the language that serves me even today.

In high school, there was Mrs. Williams, whose advanced World History class taught me the world would be a rigorous, sometimes unforgiving place. There was Mr. van Orden: Though I recall little of the geometry he taught, I still use his catchphrase — jeezy peas. Mr. Oliver and Mrs. Powell led a two-year American Studies class that also incorporated English. Anything intelligent — or elegantly phrased — that you read with my byline about American architecture, literature or history is a direct result of all their hard work. And then there was Mrs. Hunter, whose survey of English literature was very English and extremely literate.

These and so many others helped shape my intellect as a boy, which in turn helped define the man I would become. Some of them have surely passed on, but their influence continues even today. I can proudly say, for instance, that I haven’t licked the sole of my shoe for at least a year.

Today, as I think about Suffolk’s top teacher for 2013, I’d like to say thanks to all those wonderful teachers who helped make me who I am.