A back-to-school tribute to teachers!

The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.~~Dan Rather

The start of the new school year (which should begin after Labor Day) inspires thoughts of the teachers who are returning to the classroom, lesson plans in hand, and welcoming smiles at the ready to welcome eager, and especially not-so-eager, learners to new curricula, new ideas, and new expectations.

A recent Writers Almanac (9/27/17) was well timed to reinforce the role of the thousands of classroom teachers who influence, often change, the lives of young – and not-so-young – learners.  Featured in the piece was the life and work of author Theodore Dreiser.  The article, and further research, give much of the credit of Dreiser’s literary success to one teacher, Mildred Fielding, who saw promise in a troubled kid.  It’s a great story of the influence of a good teacher on a “lost kid.”

It’s the birthday of novelist Theodore Dreiser …born in Terre Haute, Indiana (1871). He grew up poor, one of 10 children, in a family that was regularly involved in scandals — his siblings seemed to be in constant trouble with adultery, unwanted pregnancies, jail time, or alcoholism. Dreiser was quiet and studious. In high school, he had a teacher named Mildred Fielding. She was 35 years old and unmarried, tall and thin with big teeth. She had also grown up poor in a dysfunctional family, and she sympathized with Dreiser at the same time that she recognized his potential. She encouraged his studies and told him to ignore the gossip of his schoolmates; but when he was 16, he was so frustrated by his family’s poverty and scandals that he dropped out of school, determined to make it on his own. He set off for Chicago with a change of underwear and socks, and a few dollars.

Two years later, he was working a menial job at a warehouse when his old teacher, Mildred Fielding, found him once again. She was now the principal of a Chicago school, and she insisted on paying for his tuition at Indiana State College in Bloomington. He only stayed for one year, but he said: “If ever […] a year proved an oasis in a life, this one did.” He returned to Chicago, where he found work as a reporter and became a prolific writer.

To this I would add my experience working on the Voices of Northeast series of interviews with individuals – writers and other respecters of the written word.  ((https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/voices-of-northeast-minneapolis-captured-and-shared-on-video/)) Though I lacked the forethought to keep track, my observation is that more than 50% of the individuals we have interviewed indicate that they found their professional/avocational voice because a teacher, often mentioned by name, had spotted their talent or inclination to write.  Many other guests are themselves teachers, formal and informal, who often tell of their efforts to nourish the creative spirit in others.

Classroom learning is too often measured by standardized tests.  The habit of lifelong learning,  on the other hand, is measured in the learner’s persistent  quest to learn, a habit of critical thinking, and a desire to share information and ideas with others so that the end result is a learning community. Our challenge, as individuals, parents and grandparents, and taxpayers, is to be intentional about understanding how, where, why we learn – and to fully support the teachers who inspire a love of learning and share the tools that keep the learning flame alive.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.  Alexandra K. Trenfor

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