Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Hail, Noble Teachers

Yes, 'tis National Teacher Day. Note how they get around the nasty apostrophe controversy by using the singular. Crafty folks, those teachers.

I'm sure somewhere, cards are being sent, gifts given. No more apples on desks, I guess. They'd have to be hermetically sealed. What I think teachers should get is a 20% raise, across the board.

How's that sound?

I'm betting in more civilized countries (like those without Applebee's), teachers are actually honored, every day. Here, it's: "Wow, Joey was so smart in school. And he's only a teacher," and "You've got it easy. Summer's off!"

Just a teacher. Yes, teacher and ...

  • Counselor
  • Psychiatrist
  • Prisoner of absurd policy
  • Stationery, arts and crafts supplier
  • Security Guard
  • Responsible for Ivy League admissions
  • Role model
  • Parents' whipping targets
  • Disciplinarian

... and, as they say, many others.

The real teachers are dedicated professionals, responsible for hundreds of kids, motivators and a zillion other things. Too often they are shackled by absurd, self-absorbed administrators who truly believe their jobs are to elevate standardized test scores. And they are paid less than the union guy who puts cigarette lighters in cars.

Nearly every quality teacher I know warns of the inanity of common-core testing. Just the fact that kids from Convicted Felon High and Appalachia Academy are subjected to the same strictures as the student-scholars from Fancypants Prep in Saabport is ludicrous. Don't get me going on that.

Most teachers throw their heart and soul into their kids. It's a job necessity. Out at 2:30? Sure! Then correcting tests, making up new ones, lesson plans, and hours upon hours of useless "workshops," which are actually lectures, since no work is accomplished. At one of these a teacher I know filled in a response card, asking feedback on the day's activities. The teacher wrote: "Put us back in the classroom where we belong." Although the remarks were supposed to be anonymous, guess who got called on the carpet?


In my case, my two best teachers came into my life in grades eight and nine. Both came from the Stalag school of discipline. An iron fist for them would have been wimpy.

Sister Regina, brought into St. Ann's to run roughshod over us, did just so. That year, they actually separated the genders into two classes. That's how hard-to-handle we boys were. On the first day, Reggie lined us up in the hall by height. As a great candidate for HGH, I automatically went to the front of the line. Sister got right in my grill.

"Stand up straight, Mister!" she spat.

I managed, "That's as tall as I am, 'ster." Wrong answer.

WHACK! A Bruce-Lee-worthy chop to my right ear. "DON'T YOU SASS ME BACK, MISTER. I'LL SEE YOU AFTER SCHOOL!" Maybe a world record. Detention before the first class.

And so it began. Reggie worked us long and hard. She was determined to send as many of us to Fairfield Prep as possible. She even held extra after-school classes to coach us for the grueling test, the sole criterion for entry.

Eight of the score of us attended there the next year. I wonder if she smiled when she learned this news. Nah.

Father John Dunston "Dusty" Kelly, Society of Jesus, was my homeroom teacher that following fall. I had him for English, Latin and Theology. He strode into the classroom, gray-haired, red-faced and ready to kill. The Boston accent you could cut with a chainsaw, maybe. He made Whitey Bulger look like Don Knotts.


He rode us liked rented dromedaries. No work was good enough, and, if you dared flag in Latin, The World's Most Important Subject, "there will be the weeping and guh-nashing of teeth, misstahs."

Four years later, at Villanova, the weight of hours of homework, teachers who lectured without taking questions, term papers and other extracurricular work didn't seem that tough to me. Some of the guys in my dorm were crushed by the workload and couldn't cut it.

In fact, my freshman Latin teacher said to me, "Let me guess, Holleran. Jesuits?"


Two other teachers, among the many I know, stand out.

One woman (if I even allude to her name, she would have me drawn and quartered), after a few tough years, became a high school art teacher. Not only is her own work fabulous, but she draws these talents out in her students. I am amazed by how she throws herself into her job. Yes, I am biased, for I fell in love with her some eons ago. Now we are friends; she is one of my harshest critics. She'll come after me tooth and nail when I deserve it. All the while I continue to be amazed by her talents.

Taz, once my bandmate and possessor of a velvety-rich baritone, met the lady of his life while in college. They married and both became teachers. Now retired, he still gives back to his Board of Ed. I visited him and his class one year on the final day of the term. Ever see urban fifth-grade boys cry on the last day of school? I did. The memory still moves me. I'm sure if he had stayed in music, he would have also shone there. But I'm betting there are nigh a thousand kids who are glad he didn't.

To the specialists who care for my son, to the subs who subject themselves to slings and arrows, to the "lifers" who couldn't think of another profession for a nanosecond, a humble writer salutes you.

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