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In Memory of Some Who Served


Our neighborhood will celebrate Memorial Day with a picnic in my yard this afternoon. We will remember those who served and died in service to our country in our armed forces. With no intention of minimizing military service, I would like to remember some individuals who gave their lives, not by dying, but by serving their country consistently over the years.

Today on Memorial Day I can't help but think of all those who invested a lifetime in service to their fellow citizens in classrooms across our nation. They have served quietly and without fanfare, but they have certainly helped shape our nation. They are teachers and I would like to tell you about three who will always be with me.

Miss Stevens: My first grade teacher who recognized and dealt with learning disabilities that didn’t have names in 1956. I am mildly dyslectic—right and left are, to this day, a problem for me. Miss Stevens realized this when I often put the wrong hand over my heart for the morning Pledge of Allegiance. “Susie, pick up your pencil as if you were going to write. That’s your right hand.” To this day, when someone gives directions for right and left, that #2 pencil is virtually in my right hand.

I also had a pretty bad speech impediment--I dropped my “Rs”. I went to the speech therapist once a week, and I was sure it was because she was prepping me to be the announcer at the first grade assembly program. I began my teaching career at my double desk in Miss Stevens’ room. Becky was so impressed with my forays to the “speech lady” that she wanted me to teach her how to say “giwaffe” and “wabbit” so that she could go too. I did not master “Mothers and Fathers” in time for the program. Miss Stevens made me Rhythm Band Director instead. She still remembered my first efforts at instruction when Becky and I were in our forties.

Thanks to Miss Stevens, the traditionalist, I never knew I had learning limitations. I knew I was special.

Mrs. Burnett: My sixth grade history and language arts teacher who understood cognition before we called it that and who taught me to love language and “set high expectations” before high expectations were buzz words. She wore beautiful and expensive shoes that came from Leon’s, the best shop in town, and although she was a tiny woman, students quaked when she gave them her "teacher look" over the top of her half glasses. We wrote reports on mythology, important historical sites, and the Seven Wonders of the World. My first experience with research began with my World Book Encyclopedias. I was suppose to write about the Acropolis. I began at aardvark and worked my way back. Knowing just to know was fun.

Each week we had two prefixes and two suffixes to learn and two vocabulary words for each one we had to learn. On Fridays we had cumulative vocabulary tests—no true-false or matching—a blank piece of paper and either recall the word or write the definition. By the time we finished the last 400-word test I had a mastery of etymology. When I was recognized as a Teacher of the Year forty years later, she wrote to congratulate me, saying that she knew when I was eleven that I had potential as an educator. When I wrote her back I made sure I double checked my spelling, punctuation, and handwriting.

Thanks to Mrs. Burnett, the classicist, who I realize now was a true scholar, who gave me the gifts of intellectual curiosity and academic rigor and made me a darned good Jeopardy player.

Mrs. McMillan: My junior Honors English teacher, who understood the importance of critical thinking skills and value of project-based learning even though it marked her as “unconventional” and “subversive” in 1967. One Friday a month our homework was a reading from Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. It opened up a whole new world of organized thought and I started asking questions that pushed against my preconceived answers. It had never occurred to me that "truth" had a bigger meaning than "not telling a lie."

Once we had begun to think, she expected us to apply those skills. The last month of our junior year she divided us into four groups of six and assigned us one of Shakespeare’s comedies. She told us that at the end of the month we would perform a one-hour version. We could not paraphrase, we could not rewrite, but we could use the editor’s red pen with complete freedom and then she put each group in a separate room and checked up on us every day or so. We thought we had total freedom and control! She knew that she was forcing us to deconstruct the plot and identify critical text while not losing touch with the playfulness of words nor the universal stories. We were taking responsibility for our own learning.

We were ruthless and probably profane. We identified subplots and cut them. We even edited Jacque’s “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy from As You Like It, but we also memorized more than we cut. Mrs. McMillan probably remembers us as the beginning of the end. She didn't return to the classroom the year after we graduated. The administration was concerned because it was felt she was encouraging too much "free thinking."

Thanks to Mrs. McMillan the constructivist and rebel, who demonstrated that people learn best when allowed to take control and responsibility for their own learning and who taught me, at sixteen, to think with my head as well as my heart.

What teacher do you remember?

What student will remember you?


As a teacher and the wife of a teacher (who have together more than 40 years of classroom experience), I find the timing of this post offensive to the memories of those who served and died in defense of our Country. Find your own holiday and use this one to remember the unique sacrifice it was intended to honor.

I second Gladys's comments. To paraphrase the Good Book, there is a time for everything, and this time was chosen poorly.
As both a teacher and the grandson of a WWII veteran who flew 51 missions, some of which were over Hitler's oil fields, I believe the time we spend focusing on our veterans should not be waylaid by the self-serving interests of other groups. Please be more selective when advancing your own agenda.

As a 20 year educator and an Air Force veteran, I must say I found this posting to be wonderful. Armed forces veterans serve in a unique manner, so do educators. Both occupations are loved and hated at the same time. I doubt there will ever by a holiday dedicated to those who serve by teaching so that others can reach their dreams.

I find it somewhat disappointing that the first two posters seem to have missed the entire point of this article. As the author states, this is not meant to minimize the sacrifices of the military, but rather to give us an opportunity to further reflect upon those individuals who have impacted the lives of people everywhere. Since this is an education based forum, it is both natural and appropriate that she would highlight the importance of teachers and their contribution. I further appreciate the fact that she urges us to move our attention beyond the ‘festivities’ of the day and into a more reflective place of gratitude. This is no way diminishes the memory or honor of those who served and continue to serve in the armed forces. Rather, it gives us all an opportunity to be thankful for the many people who touch our lives by their service and sacrifice.

I don't think the first two posters missed the point of this article at all. Although the author claims her purpose is not to minimize the sacrifices of the military, by "piggy-backing" on the holiday set aside by our nation as a "memorial" to those soldiers, she does just that. I acknowledge this may not have been intentionally disrespectful, but that is the unfortunate result. Teaching can certainly be a noble pursuit, but cannot honestly be given relevance to our fallen soldiers. Sarah's post simply adds continuity to the offense. Teachers have their own week each Spring for special appreciation. Allow our fallen military heroes the dignity of exclusivity on their special day.

I enjoyed this piece and appreciated the sentiments it expresses. I find it not only disapponting but offensive that two of the posters objected to the piece as somehow denigrating the sacrifice of miltary personnel. To accuse teachers of being self-serving is indeed an insult to the selfless work of so many educators who are under-appreciated and underpaid for their hard work. In what way does praising one group of people who serve the community diminish another group?

We might remember the many teachers, principals and other educators who have been called to the current war and many wars before this, as reservists. I have a hard time imagining they would divide their commitment to serving their communities into two distinct categories, education and defense. It seems to me we honor both educators and those in the military by noting their parallel commitment to service.

Teachers do have a place at the table. Some have places at more than one table. The teaching profession just does not have a place at THIS particular table which was specifically set aside to think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest of us would have the freedom to even have this discussion.

Our district and many others have a "teacher appreciation day". That is the table at which we should gather for this reflection. Let "Memorial Day" be what it was designed to be. Too little time is spent by too few actually focusing on the sacrifices made by many generations on behalf of the rest of us. The appropriate place for a teacher at this particular table is to be helping his or her students commemorate the sacrifices made by our veterans and their deceased comrades. I would make the same comments to the vets if they chose to somehow manipulate "Teacher Appreciation Day" to honor all those drill sargeants!


I love this article. And the fact that Gladys Stefany hates it makes me love it even more. Very intelligent and well written

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Daniel Hughes: I love this article. And the fact that Gladys Stefany read more
  • Gladys S Stefany: Teachers do have a place at the table. Some have read more
  • John in NC: We might remember the many teachers, principals and other educators read more
  • Karen Moffat: I enjoyed this piece and appreciated the sentiments it expresses. read more
  • Mike Miller: I don't think the first two posters missed the point read more




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