Her name was Miss Blanchard and she was so pretty. She also smelled good and she was very, very kind. She seemed old to me then, although she was probably only about 23 or 24. She had infinite patience with a 6 year old who had never been to any school before and who could only cry and ask to go home. She hugged me and gave me treats and let me stand next to her when the terror of being away from everything familiar overwhelmed me. In my young mind the teacher standard was forever set.
Years and years and more years ago, teaching was a high calling, especially in the African-American community. Except for being a doctor—or a mortician—there was no more respectable profession, and you did your family and neighbors proud when you became a teacher. Not so much now. Tired, underpaid and so often unappreciated, today’s teachers must often look out over the sea of twenty five or thirty childish faces at the beginning of a new school year and wonder if it’s worth it. The library shelves are filled with people who say it is.
The book Christy, by Catherine Marshall, was the first one I read that brought home to me the special role teachers have in children’s lives. Granted, it is a love story and reading it as a teen, that aspect certainly appealed to me. However the story of a young woman who goes into the Appalachian village of Cutter Gap, Tennessee in 1912, to teach against incredible odds, drew me in. Later I read The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy’s extraordinary memoir about teaching in a two room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina…and there are so many more stories like his.
Just to name a few of them:
- The Blackboard Jungle
- Goodbye Mr. Chips
- The Freedom Writers Diary (also a movie)
- Stand and Deliver (movie)
- To Sir With Love (also a movie)
- The Dead Poets Society (movie)
- The Miracle Worker
These stories—true or fictional—remind us that teaching is still a privilege. The ability to impart knowledge and understanding to someone else is nothing short of wonderful. With very few exceptions, every other profession, no matter how lauded or revered, has started out with a teacher. Yes, there are scandals and horror stories about what goes on in some classrooms. However I am able to write this post and you are able to read it because someone, at some time, taught us how. If you were lucky, they were like Miss Blanchard.