READY: We keep teaching and learning ‘till the bell rings

Mary Ready | Ready or Not
Mary Ready

Good advice from the Bible tells us to “study to show thyself approved, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” When you think about it metaphorically, life is our classroom, and we should study something every day to keep our brains agile enough to find our car keys or to recite from memory the first 18 lines of “Canterbury Tales” in Middle English. Oddly enough, I can still remember those lines from Chaucer after hearing my 12th grade English students recite them to me over the years. The car key search is another story.

School’s been in session a few weeks now, and I still find it strange that it starts in  mid-August. When I first started teaching, the first day of school came after Labor Day. Then, it morphed into the mid days of August heat. Decades ago in the South, school didn’t start until September because cotton had to be picked and corn gathered.

School teachers are the certifiable heroes in our social structure. They are overworked, underpaid, and often under-appreciated. They are the warriors against ignorance and second only to parents as the most prominent source for teaching civility in a society where civility is sorely needed.

Too many people are critical of our schools and teachers. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, but the opinions of critics would be different if they tried keeping order in a crowded classroom while teaching children all day long five days a week for an entire school year. To make it a realistic experience, the critics would also need to support their families on a teacher's salary and put up with the latest “brilliant” state program designed to double their workload.

When you take your child to school, give the teacher a compliment and say something encouraging. That teacher is your best friend in helping ensure your child's future. 

Whatever we accomplish in life, we owe to a long line of teachers whose lives and lessons have influenced us. In some cases, we may have forgotten the specific lessons, but we seldom forget the specific people who taught those lessons. Many think the yardstick for measuring good teaching and good learning is the extent to which a student remembers the details of the course content or the score on a standardized test. I don’t remember many lesson details taught the first 12 years of my education (except the multiplication tables, vocabulary, and sentence construction), but I do remember the teachers who taught me to think and put me on a life-long path of learning. My most memorable teachers are the ones who inspired me to become a teacher. I can still see their faces and remember their giving attitudes.

Every time I write a complicated sentence, I see my high school English teacher, Miss Lajuana Prim (later Alexander) standing at the blackboard diagramming that sentence. My high school days ended 51 years ago, but my teachers, whether still among us or in heaven, will live on for me as long as I love speaking and writing our beautiful English language.

I often see the face of my Latin teacher, Miss McCollum, whenever I encounter an unfamiliar word. Usually, I know its meaning without a dictionary because I recognize its Latin or Greek components. She always said, “Latin is NOT a dead language; it lives through our love for words.” That lady turned me into a lexiphile (lexi = word and phile = lover).

Teaching has always been the profession from which all other professions emerge. Whatever your calling, from high to humble, somebody taught you to do it. Members of every profession must pass through the hands of teachers. We constantly move from the role of student to the role of teacher in life, and back again. The teaching and learning process incorporates every skill from simple addition to calculus; from skipping rope to brain surgery. We are simultaneously teaching and learning how to live in this world. We are teaching and learning whether to respond to rudeness with kindness or aggression, and whether to treat diversity with acceptance or ridicule. We are not always aware of the fact that we are teaching or being taught, and the lessons we teach and learn are not always from a book.

Life is a classroom. We are all students, and we are all teachers. Someday, the bell will ring for us, and our earthly class will be dismissed.

May it be thus, until the final bell rings. 

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.