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Thanking a Teacher

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Ernie reminisces on graduations

The bumper sticker on the car said “If you can read this thank a teacher.” The car the sticker was on sat near a graduation ceremony I was attending.

It’s spring, a time of new beginnings and one popular ending: graduation, which we all know NOW, is really a new beginning. However, if you remember all those final exams and papers, I bet you, too, just wanted them to end.

It is easy, this time of year, to think back on those school days, and nights; however, here we will focus on the days.

But first I need to make a comment about fashion. Don’t worry, I’ll get back the teachers and I just might be able to tie it all together.

I know the fact I even know that word, fashion, may come as a surprise to many folks. More than once, after I have given a great deal of thought to what I was wearing, I got the question, “Did an ageing blind aunt whom you never visit any more give you that for Christmas?” One of the ways my wife shows her love is helping me shop for clothes. She worries, if she left all questions of color up to me I would look like the UPS man. Personally, I think they have a really cool looking uniform.

So, for those who are waiting with baited breath to learn how I could possibly give any kind of critique on apparel, here goes—my first review of fashion.

Who is it who thought those goofy-looking mortar boards that graduates wear make them look even a little educated, enlightened or intelligent in any way? How could some educator, after investing years in those students’ interests, even suggest they put an unused bookshelf on their head and walk across campus?

That’s it, my first fashion review. Notice I didn’t bring into the review those professors of higher education and their head gear during the graduation ceremony.

Now back to the bumper sticker, “If you can read this thank a teacher.”

As I watch various graduations each spring (I have several friends, it isn’t that I’m fond of long speeches) I can’t help but think of those who accepted the challenge to teach me. I had some excellent teachers who added to my knowledge base a great deal, some who didn’t have the skills to teach a newborn to suck, and some with great knowledge, who were exceptional teachers, loving and nurturing, but couldn’t get past my preconceived ideas of what I could and couldn’t learn.

My high school German teacher, Mrs. Stene, was one of those people, an important person in my educational life, but it wasn’t German I learned. I walked into her class thinking English was only language I could even consider mastering; how could I possibly learn another? The Hawks have been speaking English since the Middle Ages so it was in the genes. I know, English has changed since the Middle Ages but I did do pretty well with Chaucer and Shakespeare, though not the German literati until it was translated.

No educator worked so hard for so little as Mrs. Stene. She shared her love of the language and its beautiful words and phrases, but they didn’t stick in that gap between my ears. She would be gentle, then forceful, then nurturing and always loving. She focused on what I did accomplish rather than what I hadn't. I really think she wanted me to know German.

Even though she could not teach me German she taught me some incredible lessons. Any teacher would be proud of the accomplishments she made with me, the lessons I took to heart were life- enhancing— but not German. When I was found in the library studying boat designs I was told to work on my homework not fool around daydreaming. A few days later it was Mrs. Stene talking to me in the library telling me to follow those passions. I still have some boat plans—even lived on a boat for a few years—but the lesson she taught that day was used in all parts of my life. In other words, Mrs. Stene taught me to follow my bliss, even if my bliss didn’t include German, and to look for the positive, not dwell on what I didn’t accomplish.

Another student in her class said I needed to know another language if I ever wanted to travel outside the United States. I’m proud to say I did manage several weeks in England and Scotland without the aid of an interpreter. I also do well in Canada. A trip to Italy was successful, with the help of my stepdaughter and her husband who lived there at the time.

Mrs. Stene couldn’t get German to stick but her life lessons have been invaluable.

Another of my teachers had a very different style but taught just as valuable a lesson. He was the high school choir director, Mr. Madson. When I walked into his class I already knew the performing arts were fun and rewarding. What he taught was how to turn fun and rewarding into a passion, and I learned, from him, discipline. It’s true he wasn’t able to turn me into a Pavarotti—not even a Bob Dylan—but that work ethic was invaluable, and, I believe, led me to a great deal of success, adding depth and power in my stage acting, theater directing and writing for years after I last sang for him. And, because of that lesson the work was even more rewarding and I had more fun doing it.

I mention these two teachers who gave me life skills that did not include the subject of their class, yet they formed my life immensely. Like most of you, I too experienced many other impressions also.  However when I think about the public schools, private schools and colleges I attended,and when the memories come up of the challenges, enlightenment, and mental stimulations, I thank those teachers. Because of their efforts I know where to put my attention—on the positive.

I admit I love the eternal beginning, ending, beginning spiral of life, thanks in part those who tried so hard to teach me.  Fortunately, I don't need one of those goofy looking caps to do it.  

So, when I read the bumper sticker, I did thank a teacher, and, I was thankful it wasn’t written in German.

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

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