Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

May 12, 2013

Celebrating our favorite teachers

— — Reading through the letters submitted as part of this year’s Tea for Teachers event during the past week or so has been both a fun, enlightening and educational experience. It can be hard to go through the messy handwriting and phonetical spelling of the kids, though I can admit I have seen worse come in from adults before.

It’s neat to see the little illustrations the kids incorporate to help bring home their points as well as the little things they think make each teacher great.

However, there are some simple things that most of the letters had in common. It seems like some traits in a teacher are more admired than others. In fact, I think I may have figured out the perfect teacher — at least from the kids’ perspective.

A lot of the kids praised their favorite teacher for providing them snacks or treats during class, particularly pizza and candy. Teachers who don’t give homework or take their students outside were highly praised as were those who watched movies in class and let kids get something out of the treasure boxes for good behavior.

Sometimes, you could tell just from the letter that the author might be a bit of a trouble maker. It’s high praise from an elementary school student who says their teacher never yells at the class “unless we deserve it.”

Then there were the letters that make your heart swell. One child wrote about how their teacher bought school supplies for them when their parents couldn’t. Another thanked their teacher for helping them learn not to miss their mommy so much when they were at school. Yet another student thanked a teacher for greeting them every morning with a hug, especially on days when things were bad at home.

I know from watching my own mom that teaching can be a hard job. Though my mother has mainly stayed within the world of pre-school — which allows her more flexibility — I do remember clearly at least one year she taught first grade. Between the demands of state and federal mandates, standardized testing and decreasing school budgets, it wasn’t an easy job. I know on more than one occasion a portion of our family budget went to providing supplies for a student in her classroom who otherwise couldn’t have afforded it. It’s hard to be the kid in class whose parents can’t afford your school supplies, especially when you’re sitting next to the girl with the mega-box of brand new crayons.

On other occasions, mom was more than a teacher to these kids. She became a shoulder to lean on when kids dealt with the death of a beloved grandparent or struggled with their parents going through a divorce.

The birth of a new sibling can be especially trying on kids as well. Even though kids love their teachers, they don’t necessarily make it easier on them.

My thoughts sometimes go back to my own first grade teacher Mrs. Wiggs and how much of a handful I was for her.

We moved in the middle of the year and I found myself starting fresh in Mrs. Wiggs’ classroom in February with no friends, a new house, and feeling absolutely terrified. As part of our daily exercises, Mrs. Wiggs had us write in a journal though we were just learning to read and write. For about the first week, every entry in my diary was filled with tears and the phrase “I miss my mommy.”

Eventually, Mrs. Wiggs got me out of my shell, helped me make friends and went on to teach my little brother as well. I haven’t been in first grade for nearly 20 years, but I still remember her name and face because she had that much of an impact on me.

There is something to be said for a person who will willingly not only attempt to corral some 15 or 20-odd kids under the age of 12 but also attempt to teach them something in the process. It is definitely not a career for the faint of heart or for those without a thick stomach.

The thing is just about all of us can identify at least one teacher who sticks out in our memory, one person who made those seven or so hours a day we spent in school fun, entertaining or educational.

My mother has a magnet, a quote from Forest Whitcraft that sums up what her personal philosophy on teaching is and what I think must be the mantra of many teachers when times get tough: “One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in or how much I had in my bank account but the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child.”

Kate Coil is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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