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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker


It’s not too late to acknowledge the teachers of your past

Last summer, my family endeavored to watch every Avengers movie in order, choosing not even to skip Thor II, which if you haven’t seen it, is really, really bad. This year, we have opted for another history journey, not through Marvel lore, but through world history. With me as Gorgo of Sparta, my husband as Pericles of Greece, and my two sons as Tomyris, Queen of Scythia, and Jadwiga, the female King (!) of Poland, we have immersed ourselves into the intricacies of the video game Civ VI.

Aside from the delicious buffet of culture, government, religion, and war, the goal is to win and one of the domination strategies is to patronize “Great People” – artists, musicians, writers, admirals, prophets, etc. A little icon pops up and clicking on it reveals who you’ve managed to attract to your civilization. Will it be Beethoven? Ana Nzinga? Mary Leakey? It’s an exciting moment in the fierce family competition.

It’s got me thinking about the “Great People” of my past and not just the ones from the history books. For me, the greatest are those who endeavored to watch every one of MY episodes, even when they looked a whole lot like Thor II. They’re the teachers – whether credentialed or not.

This coincided with the retirement of my favorite high school teacher, after 42 years of teaching drama, and the recipient of a Teacher-of-the-Year nomination and an exclusive invitation to the Obama White House to perform with the original cast of Hamilton. As I texted back and forth with him in the days leading up to his final dismissal bell, he confessed that what pushed him to retire this year, rather than next or the one after, was the thought of having to teach a new class through a screen.

Teaching is about relationships and rapport. How is trust established when every student is the star of his or her own reality show; their bedrooms and their questions on display for everyone to see…and to judge? What happens to the shy kids, who are petrified by the camera and would benefit more than ever from those in-person, one-on-one, teacher-student exchanges?

It’s been a long haul for everyone. Repurposing the dining room as an at-home classroom, and the bedroom as a home office, have been less-than-ideal renovations to our personal sanctuaries. It’s no longer possible to leave work at work and school at school.

Whether we work in education or not, we have all witnessed our school system under the stress of an unexpected pandemic. Creating engaging curricula is difficult work, and then having to condense and digitize lessons is a Herculean task. And as the role of remembering the seemingly endless log-ins for the different virtual classrooms and tracking our kids’ work fell on us, we parents got a glimpse of the kinds of students our kids are – what the teachers have been telling us in our parent-teacher conferences. Perhaps we even saw our past selves in inherited habits, strengths, and weaknesses.

At the start of the year, our great South Mountain Elementary School class parents budgeted for end of the year thank-you gifts for our teachers, never anticipating what was to come – that we wouldn’t even finish out the year together. We didn't recognize teachers in this way when I was a kid. But it’s not too late, even all these years later, to say thanks.

How about crisping that old stationery or breaking your Facebook fast to find your “Great People” – the people who didn’t give up on you, or who pushed you in just the right way – and dropping them a line. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly deep or profound. You won’t be graded. Just send a note to let them know that now that you’ve been a teacher too, in your home and to your own kids, you appreciate the hard work they did…and to reassure them that it was not for nothing – that you were worth the trouble.

Linda Beck is the Queen of Sparta.

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