WOSTER: Thank you to teachers who shaped lifetime of learning
We’re in the middle of National Education Week, and it’s impossible to think of education without focusing on teachers.
It’s been a long while since I was in a school room as a student, nearly half a century. Even so, I can remember some of the classrooms — grade school, high school and college, too — as if I’d only walked out of them yesterday afternoon. Try as I might, I can’t picture any of those classrooms without a teacher, most of whom I still remember as clearly as I do the classes and classrooms of my younger years.
It strikes me once in a while how well I remember some of the things I learned 50 and 60 years ago. I suppose a lot of the knowledge I have from those days is what people today would consider worthless.
Much of it has never helped me directly with my job. It’s not even something I would Tweet or post on my Facebook page. Now and then I can slip into a conversation some out-of-use fact from my fifth- or sixthgrade year in the Chamberlain public school system. That sometimes causes the other folks in the conversation to pause and study me intently, as one might a species of animal they hadn’t expected to see on their visit to the zoo. But I don’t know that anyone would consider that a career-building skill.
I can recite from memory the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem, “Old Ironsides.” It’s a stirring bit of verse, or always has been for me, anyway. I learned it in Nell Labidee’s English class, seventh grade, the same year we read “The Man Without a Country.” Mrs. Labidee required us to memorize numerous poems and passages of prose that year. I must confess that not once in my professional life as a reporter, or now as a public information specialist, have I needed to recite “Old Ironsides.” I suppose it’s a bit of worthless information taking up space in my brain — except that it pleases me each time I think to whisper the words to myself, and it pleases me to reflect on Nell Labidee and the incredible way she had of making the difficult business of learning seem like child’s play.
Never in all of my adult life have I needed to know anything about the Doppler Effect, that phenomenon that makes the sound of a passing vehicle swell and then decline in volume as the vehicle approaches, passes and pulls away from me as I stand along a street.
I learned about that in physics my junior year, along with all sorts of properties of matter and the universe — the speed at which objects of different sizes, shapes and weights fall, and what inertia means and how a 2-pound weight with a sharp edge, dropped from the outstretched hand of a teenage boy, can slice into the face of a physics lab book placed on the floor to prevent the weight from slicing into the tile. Whenever I think of one of those experiments, I also think of Howard Elrod, the math, physics and chemistry teacher who led me and the rest of my class on a journey of discovery without leaving the classroom.
Like “Old Ironsides,” my knowledge of physics hasn’t helped me directly in my career. It pleases me, though, each time I discover that I still remember some of those lessons. And it pleases me that I seem destined to remember for as long as I live Mr. Elrod and how hard he worked to teach his students.
From my first-grade year in the Reliance school system through my year of graduate courses on campus in Brookings, the most important part of every class, every course, was the teacher.
If I mention Nell Labidee and Howard Elrod, it’s because they were special, sure. But it’s also a way, in an essay of a few hundred words, to use a couple of teachers to recognize all of the others who guided me through worlds I never would have found on my own.
The only thing those teachers failed to teach me was how to properly thank them for their gifts.