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Monday, June 20, 2005

Teach Your Children Well

mrtl the frtl* has announced that this week's "Monday motif" is "A Favorite Teacher." As I've said many times in blogworld, I believe good teachers and good nurses are among the most valuable members of our society. I've had a few favorite teachers. I'll just talk about two today.

Mrs. Thornton
She had such an impact on me that she came to mind when I did the "I am From" meme. She was my second grade teacher, and later, she moved to the middle school, so she was my sixth grade Language Arts teacher. Mrs. Thornton was tall, maybe late 50s or early 60s. Her face, I remember as circles. Round apples for cheeks, with a natural blush; large, bright blue eyes. A bowl haircut, gray-white. She was always so ready to smile. Remembering her makes me think of one of my favorite quotes, which I think is credited to Amy Carmichael, "A cup that is filled to the rim with a good, sweet nectar, cannot spill out poison, no matter how suddenly or how violently it is jarred." That quote is probably not 100% accurate, but you get the idea. She was such a good, loving person, that that's all she seemed capable of putting out. Nothing provoked her to respond with anything other than love and concern. Even when she had to discipline children, it was firm and loving, never shaming, and you had no doubt that it really was because she loved you, that she wanted you to do better. Not that she had to discipline very much; she was one of those teachers whose demeanor commanded respect. She never raised her voice.

Mrs. Thornton always referred to herself in the third person, as "Mrs. Thornton." "Mrs. Thornton and Mr. Thornton went out to dinner for our anniversary last night, and Mr. Thornton arranged for a violinist to come to our table. Even after all these years, Mr. Thornton doesn't know that Mrs. Thornton does not like violin music! She does like Mr. Thornton, though, so she decided to enjoy the music!"

Mrs. Thornton also talked about her daughter, Jeannie, who was apparently the most beautiful, most brilliant, wittiest, most charming, kindest daughter that anyone has ever had. I loved hearing Mrs. Thornton talk about her daughter. I loved feeling happy for their happiness.

Years later, when I started learning about infant development, I learned how important the expression on a mother's face is to a baby's sense of self. Babies look at their mothers' faces, their mothers' eyes, for "mirroring." Some babies look at their mothers' faces and what is reflected back to them is weariness, annoyance, or worse. Fortunate babies look in their mamas' "mirrors," and see absolute delight, pure love, no doubt that they are worthwhile creatures, who are to be treasured just for being. Studying about that concept, I was reminded of the way Mrs. Thornton looked at her students. I was reminded of the way she looked at me. That is why Mrs. Thornton showed up in my poem, as someone whose eyes told me I was really something.

Mr. Cooper
Mr. Cooper was a middle school Social Studies teacher. He was probably about 50, not terribly tall, African American, with closely cut hair and horn rim glasses. He called all of his students by our last names. I believe he could be described as "gruff." And I could occasionally make him laugh. I adored making him laugh. Not out loud, never out loud, he was too stern and too dignified for that. But I knew he was laughing because he'd cover his mouth and turn his head and make coughing noises that weren't very convincing. If you were blessed to see his smile, you'd see some gold caps on his teeth. I loved him.

He was another teacher who NEVER raised his voice. He just commanded respect. It would have been outside the realm of possibility to treat Mr. Cooper with anything other than respect. You just knew that; I still can't explain how. Mr. Cooper had this bizarre thing that he did when someone in the class was talking out of turn. He would become silent, and then look at the intercom, tilt his head up and look all around the perimeter of the ceiling of the room, sort of Stevie-Wonder-like, saying nothing, until there was silence. Then, he'd say, "Did you hear that announcement?" No...we didn't hear any announcement. "Well, there WAS an announcement. I heard voices, it MUST have been someone talking to me from the office, because NO ONE IN THIS ROOM HAD PERMISSION TO SPEAK." He did this maybe three times at the beginning of the year. At first there were snickers, which he did not acknowledge. Then there weren't snickers anymore. And after about the third time of his, "It MUST have been an ANNOUNCEMENT," all he had to do was tilt his head back and look at the intercom. Silence. He was COOL.

It is probably no coincidence that a former student of Mr. Cooper's looks all around for the pigs in the room when she hears her daughter "grunting" sounds like "uh huh, uh uh," and the like.

One day Mr. Cooper's son came to the class to visit. His name was Oliver Cooper, Jr., and he was a law student. I remember thinking, in the moment that Mr. Cooper introduced Oliver, Jr., "THAT is what a proud father looks like." We saw plenty of Mr. Cooper's gold caps that day. Shortly after that day, I got a guinea pig. I named him, "Ollie," so no one would make fun of me. His full name was Oliver C. Ooper.

I do not know whether Mrs. Thornton or Mr. Cooper are still alive. I sometimes think of trying to track down Jeannie or Oliver, Jr., and telling them things like I've told you here.

*If you haven't heard yet, mrtl the frtl is expecting a bundle of joy! Go congratulate her pie-eating self!

31 heads are better than one . . .

Blogger what a life said...

I love hearing favorite teacher stories, probably because I am/was a teacher. I hope someone someday remembers me the way you remember Thornton and Cooper!

Blogger Jeffs place said...

Great stories Susie. Sounds like they were wonderful folks to help mold you for the future. They did a good job.

Blogger eclectic said...

Thanks for the link to mrtl -- her teacher stories are great, too! I'm such a sucker for heart-warming stories...yours is a fitting tribute to two wonderful contributors in the fabric of your life. But my personal favorite is Ollie Ooper. LOVE that!!

Blogger Spurious Plum said...

All wonderful teachers deserve to be remembered this way. I'm so glad these people were there to help you become our Susie!

P..S. I'm still sooooo in love with Jif and LG's handshake. So very happy for them and for you!

Blogger Ern said...

It takes lovely role models to make lovely people.

Blogger Marie said...

What great favorite teacher stories you shared! I enjoyed reading them very much. It made me think back to my own favorite teachers. :-)

Anonymous Sharkey said...

As I read more and more of these teacher posts, I'm struck by the similar tone and themes that run through them. Teachers' impacts are deep and long-lasting.

If you can track down your teachers or their kids, you should definitely send them this post. When my favorite teacher died in 2003, we collected memories from classmates and sent them to her family. I can only hope that it was some small comfort for them to know what Miss C. meant to so many of us.

Blogger mrtl said...

Susie, you are one full cup, and you're spilling all over the place.

Thank you! (And I'm still expecting to do a Barney Spectacular when next we meet.)

Blogger JessicaRabbit said...

I really had the biggest crush ever on my first teacher. She had blonde hair and a soft voice and always smelled amazing. I used to look forward to going to school everyday to sit near her and smell her perfume, it made me feel calm and peaceful during a time in my life that was anything but. I felt safe around her even when I didnt at home, in my mind she will always be so beautiful. I dont even want to see a picture of her in real life, my memory of her smell and her voice make up all the picture I ever need.

Blogger Jomama said...

Aww Jessica, that was beautiful. And I loved your stories, Susie. Your Mr. Cooper reminds me of my Mr. Sizemore in 6th grade. I have lots of favorite teachers but too bad of a long-term memory to do a post about all of them. That's something that I'll have to sleep on to see if I can think of any memories of them.

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

What a lovely, lovely post, Susie.

Mrs. Thornton and Mr. Cooper should definitely get a copy of your post somehow.

Blogger Kevin B said...

That was incredibly well done. Absolutely right on about teachers and nurses role in society...right at the very top! Thanks for sharing, and bringing us those wonderfully vivid memories. I am inspired to be a better parent by the way you described how serenely they handled children, very good indeed!

Blogger Southern Fried Girl said...

Awesome story. Good teachers make such a difference.

Blogger SierraBella said...

My favorite teacher, 5th grade/Mr. Toy loved to tell stories about his life. The kids used to think they were getting out of learning, but Mr. Toy's stories had a way of looping around and circling the subject matter anyway.

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

Damn you, Susie... now I'm wondering what my kids have seen mirrored in my face lately.

Blogger Candace said...

When I read "Mrs. Thornton", I immediately thought of the School House Rock song "Mr. Morton". Yeah, I'm kinda distractable.

What lovely stories. I wish I had participated this time.

Blogger Lori said...

Oh, please DO track them down! Your remembrance of each teacher was so beautifully written and sincere. If I were the child of Mr. Cooper or Mrs. Thornton, I would be absolutely delighted to hear such things about my parents.

Blogger marybishop said...

Is that look still around today? The look some teachers and parents, actually a lot of teachers and parents once had that meant: you'd better be good or else.

I'm remembering right along with you Susie...

Blogger WILLIAM said...

I will have to remember the mirror as well as the "full cup" quotes.

Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Super story, Susie. Do do the track down. They'd certainly like to hear this from you.

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

Aaaaah, almost wish I'd participated in this one. There are definitely a few teachers who made me feel like I was something extraordinary (my parents told me, too, but I think they were biased).

My best props go to a college lit/English prof named Dr. Totten. I consider him my writing mentor, because he gave me so much encouragement and positive feedback on my writing that I felt the need to continue.

Dr. Totten is a big part of why I blog today. I'm tryin' to track him down, matter of fact.

Thanks for shakin' up the good memories, Susie!

Blogger Susie said...

whatalife, you're obviously still a teacher; just know that you are a VIP :)

thanks, jeff'splace, that's very kind.

eclectic, yes, mrtl is a hoot; she was my first-ever internet date, a few weeks ago. Ollie Ooper was a good guy. He said, "weet, weet."

plum, thanks, you cool, delicious treat. That handshake gets me, too.

ern, it takes lovely people to say lovely things in other people's comments ;)

hi, marie! you should write them. They'd make good stories any time.

sharkey, yep. What I notice is that it's the teacher's character, and the way we felt about ourselves when we were in their presence, that really sticks with us, moreso than the subjects they taught.

mrtl, cups spilling? Did you mean to leave that comment to JR? Do you know "Special"? Special, special, everyone is special . . . That and "Mr. Golden Sun" were LG's first spontaneous efforts at song. She sang, "Space-shoe." So, of course, that's how we say "special" now.

JR, that's beautiful. Blog it!

jomama, I mean JOMAMA! I'll bet you can; even if you string together little memory snippets from many of them.

CK, thank you, and as for your face, don't worry about lately. Deal with this time and next time :)

kevin b, you are way too kind! I hope you come back ;)

sfg, they surely do. Bad ones do, too.

sierrabella, I like that. Storytelling is a very effective way of teaching so many things.

misfit, so just DO IT sometime. Doesn't have to be "on the right day"! Whenever you feel like it is the right day.

lori, thank you for that encouragement. I think I will give it a try.

MB, that's one of the things I've tried to master as a mom: THE LOOK. I don't like myself when I yell, and I don't have a good yelling voice anyway, so I rely on the look and THE TONE, rather than volume.

william, yea, they are good ones to remember. They are inspirational or tremendously guilt-inducing, depending upon what kind of day I'm having ;)

hoss, I'm gonna give it a try; it was long, long ago, though...

bucky you mean ol' "Hot'un Totten"?! ;)
It is a good theme. I'm spread too thin these days to put much effort in, so the pre-assigned topic is working for me. But it's a good theme any time. Do it whenever you feel like it. frtl mrtl's not the boss of you!

Blogger Nic said...

I love teacher stories. Unfortunately most of mine aren't so happy, some are though. But bless you for letting us know your wonderful teacher experiences and for allowing us to go back with you on your journey of remembrance.

Blogger RitaPita said...

susie.. remember a few weeks ago and you posted about the blog readers who come and come and never comment? guilty as charged.

i'm getting better at that.

Blogger Squirl said...

Susie, I was going to post something silly but I do have a favorite teacher. Maybe I should post about her. Might take me more than tonight to post it, though. It's touching but sad. Thanks for your stories.

Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

You are so lucky thta you had two great techers. Both commanded respect which is a great theme to pass on to kids. And looking around for pigs is too funny.

Blogger Susie said...

nic, I had some bad ones, too, but that was mostly later in life.

ritapita, you are hereby pardoned for all blogcrimes, real or imagined.

squirl, thank YOU. I read your teacher story. Very dear and very sad.

kranki, looking around for pigs is actually kinda fun, too.

Blogger zhoen said...

Weird, I just last week did a post about my teachers. I too, love the ones who had that aura of power, I felt safe in those classes, like the bullies had no power over me there. I learned better because of their focus.

I had the chance to thank one of my favorite college instructors the day before I left Salt Lake to move to Boston. He did not just teach anatomy, he taught me how to study, how to think, how to learn. He seemed very touched, and I felt I had been given an opportunity to repay a great karmic debt.

Anonymous La Pix said...

I love your descriptions of your favorite teachers... I also liked the ones who commanded respect without ever raising their voices.

My mentor in college was (and still is, I presume) a very warm, wise, humane woman. She would look right into you with piercing brown eyes and speak in a very quiet voice. Zandy was more interested in learning taht grades, in inspiration and genuine responses than the status quo. She taught us to spend our energy in the ways that gave us the most lasting joy and in ways that we could share and benefit others.

Sometimes, the things you say really remind me of her. In a good way (there aren't any bad ways to remind me of her or you).

Not sure that made sense (much like that rambling email I sent you yesterday. I must stop working so much. :)

I agree with mrtl that you are a full cup. I don't know how you do it. On the other hand, I bet it comes naturally to you most times. It sure seems to.

Blogger Susie said...

zhoenw, he sounds amazing. How to think, study and learn. I'm still not sure I'm very good at those things. They really should be taught, they'd make life so much easier.

la pix, "She taught us to spend our energy in the ways that gave us the most lasting joy and in ways that we could share and benefit others." Gosh, I hope someone can teach my chid that. I will try, but I hope she is fortunate enough to have a Zandy too.

Your comment is far too generous to me, and it makes my day. Truly, I read it and my day was made. Your email wasn't rambling, it was thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I am still pondering some of the things you said. Thank you.

Blogger La Bona said...

A very well written blog. Keep it up ...

Hi there

Apologies for posting an off topic question here.

I am invitation your views on ABORTION in order to present a case to help those in the developing world.

I personally see abortion as a NECESSARY EVIL and that unwanted pregnancy is not only a personal problem and it is also a very real problem for the society at large.

Do you think it is right to burden say a 15 years old school-going girl with a new life when she is yet to have any economic mean to sustain herself and obviously, most girls of her age are not mentally ready for a family life. Furthermore, is it fair to rob her of her career, aspiration, dream etc., in the name of preserving a life that is yet to be fully developed.

If you have an opinion, please email it to me at divinetalk@gmail.com or if you wish, you may post your comment here: Your Onions Counts!


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