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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Teachers should Nurture, Enlighten and Protect their Students

"Egret Reflections" 11x14 oil on canvas SOLD, Prints available


I come from a long line of teachers, and take pride in having five teachers in our family today. I revere teachers and respect their profession. As the mother of six children, I had a lion's share of parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. Over the years, I've seen good teachers and bad teachers.

Ms. Morrell was my English teacher; a stern spinster, and the butt of jokes and complaints from her students. But without her, I may never have become a writer. She knew her stuff! She was firm, but patient. She insisted on good behavior and was a hard task master when it came to grammar. And she could see past the jeers and bluster of her students.

"Great Egret Cleaning Beak" Drawing by Carol Allen Anfinsen


She encouraged me to enter the school's literary contest and I won. She saw in me what I couldn't see in myself. I remember her to this day, not as the frumpy spinster with the stern look, but for what she taught me: lessons that stayed with me throughout my life

Mr. Holmstead was my History teacher; a fun-loving man who walked a shaky line between likability and control. Somehow he managed; not because of classroom rules or rigid authoritarianism, but through his own charisma and passion for his subject.

Whether you liked history or hated it, you were bound to love how Mr. Holmstead told a story. He captured your attention and made history seem relevant and wondrous. The test questions were easier to remember because of the performance and the theatrics he tied to each fact. Those who thought history was boring were in for a big surprise.

"Maestro" 9x12 Pastel on Bristol
By noon, Mr. Holmstead already had a five o'clock shadow. By the end of the day, his tie had been loosened, his jacket hung on a chair and his sleeves were rolled up. We loved history because he loved history. His teaching was infectious.

And then there are the not-so-great teachers. I met one of them at a parent teacher conference. She was irritated by my energetic son. "He fidgets too much at his desk," I was told.

"And why does he fidget," I asked? Turns out my son finished his work before the other students and then he became a distraction. He even turned over his paper and doodled on the back (imagine that!) making his worksheet messy and dirty (the nerve).

By the time I finished listening, I knew there was nothing I could say or do to change this teacher's mind. I did suggest that she give my son another sheet of paper to doodle on while he waited, but she refused, saying that she didn't have time to cater to one student. Oh the "mind is a terrible thing to waste!" (Negro College Fund Slogan)


Here is the flip side to that story. In my son's sixth grade year, he had a teacher named Mrs. Bush. The children loved her, not because she was lenient or friendly, but because they knew what to expect from her. Her discipline was consistent; her style full of expectation and follow through.

My son was still the same wiggly, talkative child, but she used that enthusiasm to their mutual advantage. When he sat fidgeting after finishing his work, she showed him how to use the classroom camera. He took pictures of designated materials under her supervision. And wouldn't you know, the envious other children began to work harder to finish their work so that they could use the camera
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"An Open Book" 16x20 mixed media; Prints available
At one point, during their study of China, Mrs. Bush showed him a tiny picture of a Chinese dragon and challenged him to see what he could do with it. She gave him some brushes and paints and turned him loose on the classroom window. By the end of the day, he had completed a giant, colorful dragon; an exact replica of the original drawing.

That painting amazed not only me, but the entire school. Mrs. Bush saw a glimmer in my son and harnessed his active mind and body; a true modern-day miracle worker. Teachers like this never scream for recognition or pay, but they deserve it. They simply do what they do best: teach children. I say God bless them!