Thank you, Miss Ketchum!
Yes, I wrote Miss Ketchum, not Ms., because she was my teacher before the days of “Ms.”—a woman then was either Miss or Mrs. I think she was a Miss, but married or not, I loved her. She taught first and second grade, and I got to study with her two years straight; I would have stayed with her forever if I could. Miss Ketchum was beautiful, at least to me, because she treated me with loving kindness always. I was her pet.
Miss Ketchum taught us to read, to raise our hands if we wanted to be called on, to count and do simple arithmetic. We drew pictures, practiced our handwriting, acted out stories, and played circle games on the playground on nice days and in the lunch room when it was raining. There was no school gym. Maybe what had once been the gym was turned into the lunch room because the school was over-enrolled and crowded. I didn’t care. This was public education—a gem, if underfunded. Public education serves our nation and needs to be defended.
Neither Miss Ketchum nor any of the other teachers at P.S. 81 “taught for the test”; they taught for the love of learning. Students are in school to study many things—science, literature, arithmetic, art, and physical education. Also penmanship. And how to respect and get along with others. In my view, schools that feature open discussions, explorations, and the time and place to run around like kids provide better educations. Kids learn better when they can move, when their minds and emotions are engaged. Rote learning has some value, but its overemphasis quashes intelligence. Tests are a learning and diagnostic tool but not the purpose of the school system.
Miss Ketchum paid attention to me and never made fun of me or anyone else. We were all treated with respect. She taught from her heart, taught me to love school. It was my refuge from a less-than-happy home, and I know plenty of other kids before and after me felt the same. I still love school. I even married a teacher. Sometimes I am a teacher myself. I found an emotional sanctuary in school. Others find a place to get a nutritious meal—sometimes the best, maybe only, meal of their day. All schoolchildren deserve a free and nutritious lunch program.
But let’s get real about elementary school. First-graders are a messy bunch. Teachers clean up a lot of stuff—snot and vomit and worse. Kids can be rude and unruly. Teachers clean that up, too, and teach kids manners and interpersonal skills.
Often, our schools are under-supplied. Many teachers go shopping and buy supplies for their classes out of their own pockets, which are not exactly stuffed to begin with.
Teachers have to be counselors, psychologists, coaches, and maintain discipline while teaching kids who may or may not want to learn. Teachers should inspire, and the best ones do.
Dealing with a group of kids, maybe 30 or so, for 6 hours or longer is a hard job. But it’s not over when the bell rings. Just as students have homework to do, so do teachers. They correct papers, write lesson plans, and think about and study ways to be better teachers. I don’t think we give them enough credit for that.
I sometimes hear folks complain that teachers are lazy, have cushy schedules, and have the summer off. Anyone who thinks teachers have it easy should try it. Teachers have to be counselors, psychologists, coaches, and maintain discipline while teaching kids who may or may not want to learn. Teachers should inspire, and the best ones do.
In many countries teachers are held in the highest regard, but, sad to say, not so much in the United States. Maybe that’s because people don’t see teachers produce tangible products—teachers don’t make something that can be bought and sold. Or perhaps it’s because they aren’t involved in big money-making ventures like real estate or banking, for instance. Instead, they are merely responsible for taking care of our children and developing an educated, well-functioning society.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” My world was changed by Miss Ketchum and the many teachers who came after her.
As Teacher Appreciation Week (May 8-12) comes to a close, I want to show my lifelong appreciation for all my teachers—beginning, of course, with the first.
Strauss, V. (2013, December 5.) Nelson Mandela on the power of education. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/12/05/nelson-mandelas-famous-quote-on-education/?utm_term=.b481c0acdd5a
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