Tuesday, May 7, 2019, is National Teachers’ Day so I’m thinking about how I can thank teachers I know for the remarkable work they do every single day. I’ll start with my sister, Liz Middleton, who teaches high school in one of the poorest counties in Florida. I know that Liz literally saves the life of at least one student every year, some years more. I know that she continues to challenge them to reach beyond their grasp. I know that she expects the best they can do, every single day, and that she finds ways to help them do that best. I know that she cares. So thanks to Liz and to the tens of thousands of other teachers like her, working every day, at low pay and with few rewards, to offer opportunities to the young people around them.
You may know of The Academy for Teachers in New York, founded and led by Bread Loaf friend and extraordinaire Sam Swope. Sam started the Academy as a way to recognize and thank teachers, to “share the love” as he says and to celebrate good teaching. His dream is to establish a foundation for teachers—and he even dreams of a big building to house the Academy, a material place to signify that teachers matter, that what they do is crucial to national health and security.
The Academy sponsors master classes for teachers nominated from their schools. The classes are led by brilliant writers and thinkers who give their time to work with the teachers, and every May the Academy has a major celebration of teachers in New York City, usually featuring many celebrities and authors, all there to thank teachers. Since I don’t live in New York, I don’t get to attend these events. What I do receive as a contributor to the Academy, however, are copies of little chapbooks they publish, each written by a noted writer.
Recently I received one by Julia Alvarez, noted novelist (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Before We Were Free, and many others), whom I have met on several occasions on the Vermont Bread Loaf campus. Hers is called “Falling in Love” and begins this way:
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I was a terrible student. I flunked every grade through fifth. The whole premise of going to school seemed so unfair: having to spend sunny days on a tropical island indoors. Then, after seven hours of this torture, I was released to go home and do my homework. Homework?! In my first and only recorded piece of writing before our departure to America, I handed my teacher a note: Querida profesora, I love you very much (start with the positive) but why should I work when I can have fun?
Alvarez’s grandmother agreed with her—girls did not need education, but her mother took another approach, and after they moved to New York she managed to get her two daughters scholarships to a boarding school in Massachusetts. That’s where Alvarez fell in love (puppy love, someone called it) with one of the teachers, Mr. Barstow, in whose classes writers began “casting their spell” on her. She ends the year with an A in English and accolades from Mr. Barstow and concludes her little chapbook by saying that “Sometimes we begin by falling in love with a teacher and land on what we love.”
I expect that all readers of this post have teachers they would like to thank, teachers from their past like Alvarez’s Mr. Barstow as well as ones from the present like my sister Liz. If so, May 7 offers a good opportunity to do so. This May, let’s all “share the love” of good teachers everywhere.
Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2093744 by Wokandapix, used under the Pixabay License