Wednesday, February 11, 2015

41 Years, and still learning

Yesterday, I tossed out the blog challenge.  Today I received a response, complete with blog entry, from my 5th grade teacher, Art Drescher.  To say that this man is a lifelong teacher and learner would be an understatement.   In addition to his volunteer service at the Vietnam Memorial, he continues to serve in classrooms around the east coast, teaching and sharing his stories.  Oh, and there isn't a single class of graduates from the 70s, 80s,or 90s -- and probably later than that -- that hasn't run into "Mr. D." at a class reunion at one time or other.  

So, friends, on this day that started at 6 am and will end at 9 pm when the last parent exits the annual OPEN HOUSE at the high school, I am pleased to turn this page over to Mr. Drescher, allowing him to share a wisdomed retrospective of a career well lived.  

See you all tomorrow!

Food for Thought and Encouragement

by Art Drescher

            I am a retired elementary school teacher who taught grades 3-6 for 36 years. Several years ago I attended the 35th high school reunion of students who were in my first sixth grade class 45 years ago. I knew I hadn’t seen some of the students since they left my classroom in 1965. Looking back all those years doesn’t make me feel old. I feel blessed. After all, when I taught them I was twice their age. Now I am just 11 years older. It’s just a matter of perspective.
            The evening turned out to be one I will never forget. I am sharing my experience with you to make you think and also to give you hope that you can make a difference.

I Didn’t Know

            This title describes two very different feelings that dominated the evening.
When I taught them in 1964-65 I was 22 years old and fresh out of college. There were 35 students in the class and I knew at least 5 of them would be attending the dinner. I wondered how they had changed over the years and what kind of adults they had become. What would they remember and how would they remember me? I was a bit anxious about that.

            What I learned was both rewarding and sobering at the same time. There was so much I didn’t know back then. Cheryl and Kate were two of the students who I knew would be attending. In sixth grade they were physical opposites. Cheryl was very overweight and had dark hair. Kate was a thin, blond girl who would later do some modeling. I remembered each as being happy in my class.

            After dinner I spoke with each of them individually and then together. What I didn’t know was that each had been physically abused at home by the time they entered sixth grade. (Cheryl* by her father and Kate* by her second step-father) Each told me stories about her home life I couldn’t believe. I hadn’t known any of it.

            Cheryl had been told I would be attending the dinner. She gave me a book and a note for me to read after she left the reunion. The first thing Cheryl told me was that she had been searching for me on the internet. Again, I didn’t know. I asked Cheryl if she would write down her thoughts for me, also. I have permission from each of them to include their notes which follow.  (Cheryl’s note is first, followed by Kate’s letter.)

      “ When you came to us right out of school we were blessed to have a teacher who was kind and caring of his students. For one student you made a great difference. I was a shy, fat girl in the sixth grade and just an average student. But you made your students feel like there was nothing they could not do or accomplish. And I for one believed you and ran with it. I would love to say I became a professional or did something great to help the world or graduated at the top of my class. I did none of those things. But I did pass on what you gave me – the belief that my children can do anything or be anything their heart desires. I must say my oldest son has gone on to become a teacher like you and has touched the lives of some of his students like you. I am so very proud of him. My daughter is becoming a nurse and my youngest will be starting college this fall. I just want to thank you for helping a shy girl know that she can help change the world by passing on what I was taught by my special sixth grade teacher. Thank You, Cheryl.”

   “ How can you thank someone for making a difference in your life so long ago? I’ve wanted to do that for many years to my 6th grade teacher. Finally, I got to do that. How lucky am I? This man, this teacher, showed me and many other students how to be accepting, and fair, and fun and compassionate, and to be a good person by example. It was the way he handled different situations. It was the way he paid attention to you and everyone else in the class. It was the way he taught us about nature and life. He was not prejudiced. He was cool and interesting and he opened our little minds to other experiences.
   This is very emotional for me. It’s been a long time that I wanted to tell him about the impact he made. I am sure he doesn’t even know. I want him to know. All teachers need to know the impact they could and do have on children that grow into adults that needed a positive role model. He was that for me.
   As I am writing this, I am crying and I can’t seem to stop. But they are happy tears, for I finally got to see him and personally tell him what he was to me. I was so glad! I think he wanted to make a difference but did not realize how much of one he did make. He was just being himself.
   Little kids need that positive role model in their little lives. I did. There was abuse in my home. My life was very uprooted. I had been through a lot in my short life. I had no positive men around me. Then came this handsome, neat, energetic teacher with this quiet strength and his big heart. I could tell he wanted to be a good teacher. He tried. He handled his students with respect and caring. I remember different situations that came up with classmates. Every time he took control, but in his way. You knew he cared. You knew he was going to take care of things. I felt safe. He impressed me.
   To this day I recognize birds and birdcalls from the fieldtrips he took us on. How much fun we used to have. I would tell my daughter and now my grandchildren about the teacher that taught me all about it. Now they get interested in the nature around them. So I am passing it on. Thank you.
   I believe kids recognize good when they see it, when they experience it. They want that in their lives. I did. When you have a lot of bad in your life you need to be around good to see the difference. It is so important.
   Through all the abuse in my life I single-handedly raised a wonderful daughter. I wanted to turn it around, to make a difference. It was hard but I did it. She is a great person with two degrees, working with abused children and is a wonderful mother…passing it on. Life is good.
   I’d like to think we all benefit from those great teachers that everyone can look back to their childhood and remember their contributions. I hope everyone gets to tell them. Thank you so much. You made a difference. I hope you had a good life so far. You deserve it. Love, Kate”.

         These letters have been very rewarding to receive after all these years. At the same time it is also sobering. Even as adults we are attracted to others who are attractive and outgoing. I cannot help but wonder how many shy, less attractive, or less intelligent students I overlooked. And would I have been a better teacher if I had received these letters a long time ago?
     I did discover that all of the students who attended the reunion that night still are very interested in birding and remember the bird hike I took them on. How amazing is that?

         I realize teaching is not the way it used to be, especially like the “good old days” when I began. But won’t all of you look back some day to the “good old days”?  My wish for you is that on your most difficult days, you will still believe you can make a difference in the lives of at least some of your students. I know you will.

         It took 41 years for me to discover things I never knew before. Until that night I didn’t know. Now I know. Some day you will know how important you were in the lives of your students, too. Isn’t that why we all wanted to teach in the first place? 

*Names changed

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