There will be coffee awaiting me in the main office tomorrow in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.
Coffee: I used to joke with my students that if any of their papers came back with coffee stains from me, it was a bonus 5 points. That comment comes from a deep memory of receiving back many an assignment in Mrs. Jones's class that had coffee rings on the corners.
On my drive in to work this morning, I got to thinking about Mrs. Jones, from whom I took 9th grade science, chemistry, physics, geometry, Algebra II and Advanced Math Pre-Calc. She was basically half the science department and half the math department in the tiny high school from which I graduated.
My freshman year, a rather self-important group of us claimed that we were going to get her fired. She simply expected too much of us. It was unreasonable. A few of us had parents on the school board, so we knew it would be a slam dunk.
Years later, she was one of the only teachers we'd go back to visit once graduation was a blurring memory.
I remember her loopy cursive on the homework chart on the back chalkboard. I remember her hunched over the overhead, fingers inkstained and forehead knit with focus as she taught us complementary angles, balancing chemical equations, and resolving integrals.
We had no AP or honors or IB. Because the school was so small, it was not uncommon for her to have a couple of different classes happening in the same room. She was a chemist by trade, and somehow ended up in the middle of nowhere in the blank spot on the map of Oregon where I grew up.
I remember her pulling us back one at a time to her big wooden desk to go over our homework--the same homework that was often victim to a splash of coffee--to make sure that we didn't just do it, we owned it. I remember her making mistakes when solving equations and talking us through her thinking, teaching us not just to prize the getting right answer but also how to sort it all out when we didn't.
She'd throw her head back and laugh--no, cackle--at a good joke, but was quick to put her nose back to the grindstone and expect us to do the same. We learned about projectile motion with rockets on the football field and the doppler effect with a tape recorder, the horn on my Chevy Impala, a long stretch of empty road, and the upright piano she wheeled down to her room from the music room without permission. What I learned from her was more than just science and math, it was exploration and curiosity. It was the scientific method and how that can be a doctrine for how to live.
I remember telling her on one visit that I had decided to become a teacher, and laughed off her "disappointment" that I had chosen to teach English. Out of her little science and math classroom, she produced teachers and engineers and doctors and entrepreneurs and hard workers and hard thinkers.
I hope she knows how much we all appreciated her. Years have added to the distance--I know she's retired, I'm not sure of much else. Sometimes, I tire of all the platitudes we teachers are fond of bedazzling ourselves with: shaping the future, touching lives, that sort of drivel. When it's said over a microphone at a staff meeting, being on the receiving end of such blanket self-aggrandizement is awkward and uncomfortable: we're just doing our jobs, enough already.
And then I realize that to some of my students, even just a few, I'm their Mrs. Jones. If I pay attention to the right stuff, I do feel appreciated.