I’m generally not a sentimental person, but Teacher Appreciation Week makes me dopey. In my defense, I am the beneficiary of the work of some wonderful teachers at every level, and it’s not too much to say that without the academic foundation, and more importantly, the encouragement and love that Mrs. Roark, Mrs. Kreeger, Ms. Sangrey, Mr. Lewis, and others showed me, I would have ended up… well, maybe not in the gutter, but definitely not where I am now.
They probably didn’t know that they were creating a future educator, but my teachers made school so good for me (even though, to be honest, my attendance wasn’t all that great) that I’ve never had a career apart from education. Even on days when teaching is frustrating, I can’t see myself doing something else; especially these days, introducing students to difficult ideas and supporting them as they work through them has never felt more important.
In college, I learned that teaching could include research. A first generation college student, I had no idea that academia even existed; the few people I knew with college degrees were my own teachers and my doctor. I didn’t know that graduate school existed or why you went or how you got there. Kathleen Parvin, professor of English at Juniata College, is the person who showed me that ideas could matter to people beyond your professor. That my professors treated them like they mattered was affirming enough–so the idea that they could matter to others was ecstasy.
Above, notes that Dr. Parvin made on some of writing from a class on D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. At left, she calls me out on my effort to fudge margins to give myself more space to write, an early sign of my calling to scholarship. At right, she encourages me to think about publishing my writing; she saw me in a way I didn’t see myself at that point, and I’m so grateful for her vision.
Kathleen’s encouragement went a long way. Like many of her former students, I am sure, I tucked it away (not just in my mind, but in a folder of undergrad writing that dignity dictates I should have tossed out long ago) and have brought it out many times since then when I needed the reminder that, somewhere along the way, someone thought I was worth investing in. Her words of encouragement fed many of my own future words of writing. That is what, I think, good teachers do: amplify. In the end, if we do our jobs well, we get to see our work in the larger world.
Share your own stories of your favorite teachers this week in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. We’d love to hear them!