Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart


the 2nd best and most important job ever

taylor mali and zen pencilsTwo of my favourite things — actually four, if you include the ‘zen’ and ‘pencils’ as material objects… :). Teachers & poetry. And if you include social activism on behalf of teachers? You have knocked that homer out of the PARK.

Because only family makes a bigger impact on a child than his or her teachers do. Only family can love you more than a dedicated teacher. And only teachers do it in spite of cultural warfare against them.

No one is bashing on parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles. But the whole country seems to feel that teachers are individually & collectively responsible for every societal evil, from illiteracy to violence.

Really, folks? What happened to respect for a very difficult job, made increasingly  more so by completely unrealistic standards, ‘accountability’ strategies, and the spiraling poverty of so many American families? What happened to the respect shown by other cultures (where, interestingly enough, kids are ‘testing’ far better) to teachers?

I adore this poem by Taylor Mali. I’ve sent it to many friends, referenced it in lectures, and otherwise honoured it. I also love the cartoon blog Zen Pencils, where Buddhism meets popular culture. Put them together w/ a profound love & respect for teachers, and you have a trifecta.

If you don’t believe teachers are the 2nd most important job around, think again: Who taught you to read beyond the ABCs of home? Who taught you to write? Who was there for you when you struggled with math that gets you through everyday functions? Who read misspelled, ungrammatical paper after paper, checking first for content before s/he corrected the errata? Who honoured your voice, your thoughts, your own heart? Can any of us who attended school say there was never a teacher who made a profound difference in our lives?

I’m an education junkie, to be fair. I seem to be unable to stay away from school — in one form or another — for most of my life. Either I’ve been in it, been volunteering at my sons’ schools, or I’ve been teaching. Since … well, kindergarten (rather a long time ago, just FYI).

So my list of folks who influenced me is darn near as long. Mrs. Parker in 3rd (or was it 4th?) grade, who made work harder than the other kids who ‘weren’t capable of more.’ Madame Sabatini in elementary French, who instilled in me a love for the liquidity of French that has not abandoned me. Mrs. Gatti, who taught me that World History was fascinating — another love that has changed the way I see all things. Mrs. Saluja, who turned me on to Russian lit, and gave me windows into how people have lived for centuries.

And don’t forget the professors I had in college — Dr. Weathers, who showed me that literature was more than who wrote it: it was also how we read it. My beloved ersatz godmother, Fran, who showed me that poetry is wings. And her husband Manly, who showed me it was also a window.

Not to mention my sons’ teachers, who taught me that teaching is a gift given daily, to the children in our care. Mrs. Aydelotte, who turned my sons on to learning. Mrs. Lady-in-the-Office, who showed my younger son that science needs discipline.

And the mentors who got me through graduate school — both colleagues and professors. Who gave me craft that has sustained me, theory that has deepened me. And the wherewithal to make my passion into a living (however modest!)

In other words? Teachers have always been there for me. And for my sons. And yes, a few — a very few — aren’t great. But overall? There is nothing except family ties I find more important. And I’d trade several family members (no one who reads my blog!) for teachers I know. Because Taylor Mali is telling it EXACTLY like it is:

Teachers make a difference.



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