Teacher Appreciation Week has come and gone. I missed it! I have so many wonderful things to say about my own teachers and teachers like them. You don’t think they’d mind taking the compliments I have to offer, even if they’re a week late, do you? Nah, I don’t think they’ll mind either.
When I was contemplating my ten year anniversary as a vegetarian I started counting how many years I’ve been other things. Two years as a New Yorker. Five years as a wife. Nine years as a Johnnie. Twenty years as a reader.
Jesus. Twenty years. Many hundreds of books, tens of thousands of printed pages, uncountable multitudes of magazines, newspaper articles, and blog posts have passed before my eyes. I’ve made a life of the written word. Books are the embodiment of my education, they codify my sense of identity, and create a sense of security and stability. You will rarely find me without at least one book on hand, often two or three if you count reference-type books. Am I stuck waiting somewhere? It’s ok, I have something to read. I probably have something for you too, if you give me a chance to dig to the bottom of my bag. I’ve been weighing myself down recently with Homer, Twain, and an Identification Guide to New York Birds (By Color). There are five full-sized bookshelves in our apartment, all full and overflowing. That doesn’t even take into account the piles of books that slowly develop. A stack on the nightstand, one beside the bathtub, a stack of cookbooks in the kitchen that is just three too high – I’m always picking up those top three after they slide off, and one by the back door where I unceremoniously chuck finished books and grab another off the shelf as I head out the door to work.
It all started innocently enough. Phonics worksheets. Sight words. Homophones. The complicated tangle of literacy was slowly unwound by my first grade teacher, Miss Appelt. Having been responsible for teaching pre-literacy skills, I can attest that reading is not an easy skill to teach. It can be quite frustrating for children and teacher alike. But I don’t recall ever getting frustrated or fed-up with the process. I barely remember the actual learning at all, it occurred just as I passed from the personal dark of early childhood to school-age awareness. But Miss Appelt must have done a good job, and I am magnificently grateful for it. I entered first grade being able to “read” only the Amelia Bedelia books I had learned by heart, but entered second grade with fingers itching to get ahold of the elementary Holy Grail of literature, “chapter books.”
Where Miss Appelt gave me the tools of literacy my second grade teacher, Ms. Sanderson, taught me how to build a home with them. Everything about that class focused on books. She read books aloud to us. We read books together as a class. She encouraged everyone to read on their own. Her enthusiasm for reading was contagious. Second grade is where I first learned to prop a book open under my desk to read surreptitiously. When we did a social studies unit on Native Americans and we all got “Indian” names (I know that this is obviously a very Euro-centric and insensitive approach now, but I suspect most students at that time did something similar) I was dubbed “She-who-reads-a-lot.”
My early elementary school teachers gave me the one-two punch of literacy, capacity and passion. Two decades later I still hold them in the highest-esteem and remember their lessons with gratitude and just a little bit of awe. Who would I have been without their influence? Not the person I am today, for sure.
Thank you, Miss Appelt and Ms. Sanderson. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!