Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Symphony

Miss Parsons saved me from having to repeat my first year of school. I was a very shy, very young kindergartener, and when she came in, new to teaching, in her early twenties, halfway through the year when my other teacher went on maternity leave, all was right with the world. Her gentle manner drew me out of my shell and put me at ease.

Mrs. Dougal used to read us Judy Blume at the end of the school day. One time she excused herself to go out into the hall and confront another (very difficult) teacher who falsely accused one of my classmates. She had a heart of gold and made every one of us feel special.

Mrs. Paul. Oh, Mrs. Paul. The one who encouraged my two loves, writing and music. She would pass mimeographed sheets down the aisles and sit down at the piano, some 5th grade afternoons. We'd sing "Memories" and "Rainbow Connection;" "Stuck on You" (Lionel Ritchie!); "We are the World." We read and read and wrote and wrote. Mrs. Paul, who took time out of her summer to come to my going away party before I moved to Springfield.

There was Mr. Christie in high school band, who made me first chair clarinet and made me feel as if I wasn't invisible, lost in a class of 500 students; Mrs. Danton, who everyone loved to hate because she was so strict, who, thanks to said strictness, made me learn to type well and, in honors English, to write better. There was Ms. Keenan in AP English, 12th grade, who always seemed to be perfect, until the last day of class when she brought in a poem she'd written about an embarrassing moment, and I thought, "Wow, she knows what it's like to feel insecure, too."

My teachers have impacted me in positive, unforgettable ways, large and small. And as we've reached the end of yet another school year, I can't properly express how grateful I am for the teachers my own kids have had, thus far in their school careers.

I know things won't always be this way. I had my share of "dud" teachers. We will have our moments, down the road, I'm sure. That's all the more reason to celebrate now.

I think of some of Anna's teachers...of Mrs. Richert who had the bathtub in the classroom for the kids to read in and a plethora of creative ways to approach almost any assignment...Mrs. "B." who poured out her heart, soul, and love on every first grader...of her main teachers this year, Mrs. Tica and Mrs. Bristol. I'm feeling a bit of an ache here, because we recently made the difficult decision to transfer Anna out of the only school she's ever known to a large, public middle school next year, and I wonder if I was able to properly convey to them "thank you"...for working so hard and so creatively with so few resources; for their willingness to meet at any time to talk about Anna's progress, and to do whatever it took to help her in areas where she was struggling.

And Ethan's teachers. What can I say? Sometimes I just want to look heavenward and whisper, "Thanks." When Ethan started school at three years old, I wasn't ready for him to start school at three years old. I felt full of question marks and fear, which grew when we learned he wouldn't even start out in a regular pre-K classroom but an autism classroom. From the beginning, starting even back when we had therapists coming to our home, they saw things in Ethan I couldn't yet see. They had hope. They knew his potential when I was completely devastated by the only version of autism I knew, from childhood. Ethan's teachers have taught me to better believe in my son. They've shown me how smart he is. And yes, they've often encouraged me to relax and let go of the worry about him just a little bit.

And so, to Mrs. Vincenti, Ms. Shoop, Mrs. Daves, Mrs. Mullen, Mrs. Butterick, Mrs. Rumrill, and so many others, on this last day of school, thank you.

One of my hands-down favorite movies is "Mr. Holland's Opus." The film spans thirty years in the life of a musician who takes a job as a teacher just to make ends meet until he makes it big composing a symphony. Only, over time he becomes so engrossed in helping his students and in bringing music to life for them that his dreams, his symphony, begin gathering dust. On his last day of teaching students from over the years gather to thank him for his impact.

"We are your symphony, Mr. Holland," says one. "We are the melodies and the notes in your opus, and we are the music of your life."

It's funny, but I think of all of the teachers I've had over the span of decades, and my kids' teachers, in the same way. If our lives are a symphony (a beautiful thought indeed), each teacher is a little part of the grand theme that makes us who we are. There's something from each one of them instilled in us that we will always have, that we'll always carry with us. Sometimes they are teaching not just subjects but life lessons. Perseverance. Grit. Trust. Belief. Confidence. Sometimes they teach us to see.

I hope they know. I hope they know how valuable they are.

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