Like most folks, I can cite the names of a handful of teachers who significantly shaped the person I would become.
I know the names will mean nothing to most readers, but they might to some. You might even substitute names of your own with similar tales. We all have some.
James Rice, for example, was my sophomore year English teacher. A former college instructor, he taught English like we were university students. He introduced country bumpkins like me to writers we had never heard of — Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and others. More importantly, he required us to write something in a different genre every week, leading me to discover not only the seeds of my talent, but a passion for writing. Equally important, because I was in the advanced English class, he demanded more than if I was in the lower level class. When my 90 on a test just garnered a B, and lesser scores earned A in the other class, he was unapologetic. He expected me to do better.
Stephen B. Wilson, my ag teacher and Fair Grove FFA advisor aided and abetted my entry into journalism by encouraging me to send reports of chapter activities to the Springfield newspaper, and gave me stationery and stamps to fulfill the task. The first time I saw my words in print, I was hooked.
At Southwest Missouri State College, I was encouraged by Dr. Robert Henigan’s notes at the end of my essays, and I credit journalism instructor Ruth Dowling with pushing me to apply for the job of editor of the SMS Standard, my first paying journalism gig. I first told the eccentric Ms. Dowling I couldn’t afford to cut back my hours at Bonanza to take the editorial slot, but she persuaded me I couldn’t afford to pass it up. She was right on.
Though I wasn’t in school with my brother Russell past his freshman year, I know it was another Mr. Rice, Joe, who stirred his creative passions. While other teachers were focused on Russell’s science and math talents, Joe Rice introduced him to charcoal, India ink, pastel crayons and acrylic paints, thus setting him on the course he would follow for nigh a half-century.
Later came hosts of teachers in Buffalo who took my daughters under wing, like Jan Alford the Foxtrotting Horse lady, who coached Angela through algebra, and Allison Lankford and Carol Cully who comforted Melissa after the untimely deaths of Angela and her mother, Dee.
I likely should name others, but these come to mind now, examples of teachers who not only taught, but loved our children and helped them through more than classroom lessons. In all our lives, teachers have played vital roles in shaping our futures, too often with little thanks because we’re unaware until later years just how much they cared.
We honor everyday heroes of other sorts, like Mom on Mother's Day, Dad on Father’s Day and military veterans every Nov. 11, but never teachers. We’ve adopted in today’s culture a practice of thanking veterans for their service. Would it not be fitting to do the same for teachers?
Maybe we could even give them a holiday all their own, though I don’t know if they really want one. At the very least, we can tell them thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Rice; thank you, Mr. Wilson; thank you all.
Whatever we are or shall become, we owe in large part to you.
Hamilton is a freelance writer and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.