April 1, 2018

Ripples of Influence

Where do you find inspiration?  Who influenced you? Not only do we look to other people for inspiration, we also are the inspiration and influence for others.  As a young girl, I read biographies of famous people such as Helen Keller, Clara Barton and Amelia Earhart. While those ladies didn't inspire me to become a nurse or a flier,  I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I read a short story about a girl and her teacher in my 10th grade literature book.  Now as I look back on my life, I realize books weren't the only source of my inspiration.  My grandmother and mother were huge influences.

Anna Marie Kaufman was born in eastern Pennsylvania on May 13, 1894 to German immigrants. Marie, as she was known, showed her strength and determination at an early age.  She fought to be accepted in a country that didn’t always look favorably on poor immigrants.  She pushed for an education at a time when few girls went to school.  She marched for prohibition and Woman’s Suffrage.  After her marriage in 1920 to a dairy farmer, she worked alongside her husband when needed to see that the cows were milked, corn hoed and hay stored in the barn.  This was in addition to seeing that her four children were taken care of.  Cooking, sewing and cleaning were a part of her everyday life.  As Marie’s children grew, she continued to pursue her dream of an education.  She took Bible courses as well as becoming a practical nurse.  She volunteered in a variety of ways in her church and became a 4-H leader.  Marie taught her children the value of education.  “Be whatever you want to be, but be a good one," she told her children.  Marie faced problems head on with an optimistic view of life.  A trait she definitely passed on to her daughter Virginia.

Virginia Ann Parrish was born March 31, 1924.  “Almost an April Fool’s baby,” she often said.  Life on a farm isn’t easy, and life on a farm during the Great Depression was even more challenging.  “We were poor,” said Virginia, “but we didn’t know it.  Everyone was poor.”  Virginia saw her parents fight to keep the farm in spite of drought and, one year, the loss of the entire herd of cows.  It’s no wonder that when Virginia faced difficulties in life, she also faced them head on.  Like her mother before her, Virginia fought for an education.  She had a Bachelor of Science degree when she was 20 and taught one year of high school science.  The following year, she met Carl, the young Navy veteran who would become her husband.  Together they had three daughters.  Virginia was a stay-at-home-volunteer-at-church wife and mother while her children were young.  Her daughters didn’t always have the latest whatever they thought they should have, but they did have food, shelter and love.  As her oldest daughter approached high school, Virginia took classes to obtain an elementary teaching certificate.  She also nursed her husband back to health after his first heart attack.  In the early 1970’s, things at home began to fall apart.  Virginia finally decided to divorce her husband of nearly 25 years.  Her daughters watched as she made the difficult decision and as she fought to regain her self-esteem.   She ultimately didn’t let the divorce stop her.  She pulled herself together and continued her teaching and church work.  She was honored for that church work just a few weeks ago. 

Marie and Virginia didn’t set out to be inspirational.   They were simply doing their jobs, living their lives.  Each of us is an inspiration to someone whether we know it or not.  We don’t always realize the impact little things have on others.  A smile or hello can brighten someone’s day.  Giving a student a little extra time can stay with that person for years.  Did you ever stop to think where the world would be if you hadn’t been born?  We’re the pebble tossed in the lake.  The ripples of our influence multiply as they extend beyond us.  Let’s say an elementary teacher has 25 students in her class.  If she teaches for 30 years, that’s 750 people she’s had an influence on!  But it doesn’t stop there. What about those children?  What do they become?  If just one of your former students becomes a teacher and teaches 25 students a year for 30 years, that’s another 750 people that your ripples have reached.  We haven’t mentioned your family, your friends, or other people you come in contact with.  So, when you’re tired and discouraged, remind yourself that you are doing good things in this chaotic world.  Remind yourself that television, movies and social media aren’t necessarily real.  What is real is what you do every day.  Putting food on the table, helping your children with their homework, ironing your husband’s shirts are real.  Listening to Billy tell you about his home run last night or complimenting Sally on her new outfit is real.  Like Marie and Virginia you are an influence and an inspiration to someone, somewhere.  

Acknowledgements:   Like most writers, I had help writing this piece.  Thank you, Virginia Jordan for the eloquent essay you wrote about your mother.  It helped me tell Marie’s story succinctly.  Myra Clark, thank you for your “where would we be” suggestion. It was just what I needed. 

March 24, 2018

A Story About Tolerance

Hello.  My name is Karen.  I am (in no particular order) a retired teacher, mother, wife, grandmother, daughter, sister and cancer survivor.  During a conversation about her blog, Suzanne (my daughter) asked if I’d like to be a co-blogger.  Here we go! 

My love of words and learning came early in life.  I was one of those lucky children whose parents read to her.  Supposedly, I asked for the same book over 20 times before either my parents gave up or I finally quit asking to have it read again.  My mother isn’t quite sure.  I am sure, however, that I still have the poetry book I received for Christmas in 1955.  I can also still recite the bunny poem from that book!  My formal education started at Kenwood Elementary in Bowling Green, Ohio.  I didn’t stop “going to school” until I retired from teaching, 56 years later.  I may have stopped going to school but I haven’t stopped teaching and learning.  My hope is that I can bring some wisdom, inspiration and maybe a little humor to your day.  You will certainly read about my family, my students, my opinions and occasionally, God. (I didn’t do this without Him.)

I am Suzanne’s mommy.   If you know Suzanne, you know she loves her kids.  While teaching students with special needs is challenging, Suzanne seemingly does it with ease.  Part of that ease is having grown up with inclusion.  Suzanne first met Teddy in pre-school.  Even though Teddy is Down-Syndrome, he was able to attend public school spending part of his day in the regular classroom and the rest with an MR teacher.   Teddy also played soccer with his friends.  He was so loved and respected in the primary grades that when the ball came near him, kids on both sides would cheer for Teddy to kick the ball! 

At this point in my career, I was teaching a Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) resource room.  My students came to me for reading and math.  One day, Teddy’s teacher asked if she could bring her students to my room as she had been called to the office.  All of them came in and sat down without a problem – except Teddy.  Teddy was not about to set foot in my room.  I grabbed a picture of Suzanne, knelt down to Teddy’s level and said, “I’m Suzanne’s mommy.”  Bingo!  Teddy came in and sat down.

As you can imagine, I saw a lot of changes in education over my 40 year career. Some of those changes I wish never happened, others, I embrace.  We need more inclusion in our lives.  A couple years after Teddy visited my SLD classroom, I transferred to a regular 4th grade position.  Because of my special ed experience, I had a number of special ed students in my classroom.  Teddy was in that first class.  By the time Teddy was in 4th grade, our district was undergoing a growth spurt.  I began to see the difference in children who had grown up with Teddy, and those who did not.  One of my proudest moments as a teacher came in that 4th grade class.  As we were reading Scholastic News one day, I noticed a short article about a Cincinnati Reds Baseball player.  I asked Teddy about him since I knew him to be a fan.  Teddy began to read the paragraph.  I wish I could duplicate his reading.  Teddy would read the words he could, and mumble over the ones he couldn’t. 

There was not a sound in the room as Teddy read.  The class applauded when I finished, and I needed a moment to compose myself.  It is bring tears to my eyes as I write this.  I’m still not sure if I was prouder of Teddy for his reading, or the rest of the class for listening.  I know that the acceptance of Teddy and his reading came from these students having grown up with Teddy in their lives.  The students who came to the district later, were often less tolerant of Teddy and students like him.

Is tolerance the answer to all our country’s ills?  Of course, not.  But acceptance and tolerance makes us better people.  It makes us more patient standing in line at the grocery story behind a young mother digging in her purse for enough change to buy a box of cereal for her daughter.  It makes us think twice about judging the family of the crying toddler in the restaurant.  As teachers, we need to listen to our students, to their parents.  We can’t change the situation at home.  But that situation – whatever it is – has an influence on how Johnny or Sally is behaving and learning.  Knowing about that situation can help us help our students be better learners and better people.

I am happy that I can offer an ending to Teddy’s story.  He has found acceptance as a bagger at a local grocery store.  He still asks about Suzanne.  

Until next time…

Note:  I can’t tell these stories about my former students without using names.  Names will be changed to protect their privacy.