Fifth grade was a nightmare for me. A year filled with stress induced migraines and a constant feeling of dread. At the center of my memories of this time stands the imposing image of a strict, red faced women who was my teacher and she caused me to hate school.
The reason I mention this is because I’ve been thinking about both teachers and coaches a lot lately. Partly because the boys just found out who their teachers are going to be this year, partly because of the video going around featuring the little league coaches post game talk to his kids and partially because of the constant attacks that our teachers seem to be under by media and politicians.
And I mention my fifth grade teacher because she serves as a contrast to most of the teachers I’ve been fortunate to have in my life and to highlight the importance of good teachers in the lives of our children. She was the rare exception in a long line of teachers that would become positive influences on my life.
There was Mrs. Cahill who welcomed me into her classroom in second grade when I was new in the school after moving to New Jersey from Colorado. She made sure to give me the attention I needed then as well as connected me with my earliest friends. She was tough, but always with a smile.
There was Mrs. K in fourth grade that would take breaks during the day to read to us from the Chronicles of Narnia. She could have sat at her desk and let us do busy work, but she chose to do this and my earliest interests in writing started there.
There was Mrs. Racioppi who became the first big influence on my writing. I initially dreaded her writing assignments, but I learned to love them as she encouraged creative writing and helped me start to develop my writing voice.
There was Mrs. Unger who’s eyes absolutely lit up as she talked about science in eighth grade. I don’t think she could tone back her enthusiasm if she wanted as she passed on her love and interest on to use. Even when our experiments failed (you can’t cook a hot dog in a handmade tin foil oven on a cloudy day), she was quick to help us find the lesson in the failure.
The list of teachers really goes on and on. Mrs. Eckle who scrapped her whole course plan when the Gulf War broke out to guide us through history as it happened. Mrs. Fitzgibbons who brought literature alive with such excitement that I learned to love Shakespeare as much as Salinger. Mrs. Casey who made religion fun and helped us figure out why it was important in our lives, dragging us out from under the fear the Baltimore Catechism delivered. Mrs. Lucas (who recently passed away) taught us the importance of how history still affects us in the present. Mrs. Wilmarth who patiently worked with me through the difficulties of Algebra, refusing to leave me behind as the rest of the class grasped it faster. And, of course, the Frank Zappa loving Mr. Setlock who made everything fun, cleverly masking the fact that we were learning important things like biology.
The very sad thing of it is that adults should not have to stand up and say that teachers are important and trying to remind other of that fact. They should simply be standing up and applauding our teachers. So many dear friends of mine are teachers and I see them struggle at times because of critical parents, a skeptical media and heartless, stupid politicians. I believe the average American would take their teachers and put them high on pedestals, but there are loud voices out there that want to tear them down and I cannot fathom why. The fact that teachers are important, deserve our respect and should be paid well should be a universal truth like water is wet and the sun is hot.
Good coaches are also important because they pick up teaching our children after they have left the classroom. The life lessons learned on the fields and courts become ingrained into the kids. I once read something about how athletes in high school tend to have much higher self-esteem than non-athletes. And I would think this would have to extend to other activities like forensics, religious groups, scouts, theater, etc. The importance of having someone that can help you learn the things you love is invaluable and can only have a positive influence on you. Coaches and advisors are teachers, as well, and become huge parts of who our children grow to be.
The past couple of years I’ve coached Little League baseball and basketball. While it is always rewarding, it is difficult more often than not. This past baseball season left a bad taste in my mouth and left me resolved to not coach baseball again even if my kids decided to play again. However, as I watched the little league coach video and truly think about how much the teachers and coaches of my children invest of themselves, I can’t help but re-think this. I watch the sacrifices that teachers and other coaches make and I feel like I need to do my part. I’m not saying I’m a good coach or looking for any kind of praise, but I can’t help but feel that I have a part to do.
I feel like if we continue to attack our teachers there are going to be less college kids that chose to become teachers and not only will the quality of education diminish, but there will be more teachers like my fifth grade teacher.
And Mrs. Racioppi or Mrs. Fitzgibbons, if you happen to be reading this…I am so sorry for all my grammar mistakes. And thank you. To all you other teacher, good luck and God Bless as you embark on a new school year.