A Cure For Teacher Complaining

“It’s time for another weekend in the desert,” said Elizabeth. Friday afternoon our group of five teachers piled in the car and drove out the school parking lot to Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs.

As we drove the two hours, we talked and complained about school, students, administrators, school conditions, funding….you get the idea. We needed to vent to people who would understand, but after two hours of griping and complaining we were in a bad mood.

Warm, sunny Rancho Mirage greeted us. At the condo, we drank strawberry daiquiris and sat around the small patio table overlooking the golf course.

“No more talking about school,” Elizabeth declared. “Any time one of us says a word about school, she has to put a dollar in the middle of the table and the money goes to buy us drinks tonight.”

We continued this tradition for all our Palm Desert weekenders. No matter how much money ended up on the table, it cured our bad mood every time.

Here we are years ago (back in the 80’s) in Palm Desert, ready for a night of “Teachers on the Town”.

Teacher Dreams

Last night I dreamt I was teaching again. I welcomed my students into the classroom, took attendance, saluted the flag and talked about an assembly that was happening that day. I could picture the colorful walls filled with student work, the desks and chairs, the backpacks in the cubbies and lunch bags tossed around the room.

I left teaching ten years ago, due to an illness, but teaching is still a part of me. When do these dreams stop? Ever?
Do others who have left teaching still dream of being in the classroom?

A Teacher Remembered

Yesterday, Anita Painter passed away. Mrs. Painter was my Humanities teacher and one of my three favorite teachers, all from Corona Del Mar High School in Newport Beach.

It saddens me to think she’s gone. She was the perfect combination of a kind, yet tough teacher. I found out through Facebook where a classmate of mine wrote, “She enlightened thousands of students during her teaching career and she will be missed.” Yes, she will.

Mrs. Painter expanded my world through history, the arts, philosophy and geography. She expected much of her students and attained it through encouragement and compassion. The final exam in her class was no mere two hour pen and paper exam. No, no, that was the easy half. She expected us to bring to life all she had taught us. For my final, my friend Katrina and I researched and created a 16th century Florentine dinner. We created a menu based on foods of the day. We cooked the entire meal as authentically as possible in Katrina’s mom’s kitchen.

We invited our parents to the meal with Dr. and Mrs. Painter. Once seated our teacher directed conversation to her two students. We spoke only of present day issues in 16th c. Florence; Da Medici’s, Michelangelo, Raphael, irrigation, voting procedures. She graded us through our conversation.

Each summer Mrs. Painter took some of her students on an educational trip through Europe. She convinced me to go.

As we drove on the bus to our first stop, Dachau, the tour guide informed us the road on which we were traveling had been paved with ashes from the concentration camp. Tears fell down my face as we drove along the German countryside.

Then we went to Italy where I stood motionless in front of Raphael’s School of Athens, the painting I had studied and examined and learned to love through Mrs. Painter’s class. The Botticellis, lunch on the Seine, hiking a glacier in Switzerland, there’s so much more, but for now, I’m content to know that even in retirement, Mrs. Painter continued her love of Humanities through community service to the Arts, education foundations and staying in touch with her former students.

Enlightened. I can’t think of a better word to describe her.

Students: Letters To Themselves

May 17, 2000
Dear H***,
You have lots of friends like L**, E**, C**, K** and L** of corse.
You have a goal for when you grow up which is an artist and an actriss and of corse a person who helps wild animals. I hope that one day I will have three kids and an understandable husband. I just hope that I’ll have a dog (golden retrever).
Also I hope to learn cursive soon. I’ve had many teachers but I think Miss Christian has tought me the most inportant lessons in my life.

The letter above is from a second grader, typed exactly as she wrote it in May, 2000. She’s in this year’s group of students about to receive a letter from their younger selves.

At the end of each school year I had my students write a letter to their future selves. I saved the letters, then mailed them to my former students the year they graduated from High School along with a letter from me, talking about what I remember of them and what has happened in the past five to ten years.

I love sending these letters each year and reading about forgotten memories from the child’s point of view. Most of this group wrote about becoming veterinarians and seeing dancers from all over the world perform at the local theater. There’s also a note about coming home from a field trip and one of the parent’s racing another back to school with students in the cars! I wish I’d read that back in the day. Wait, on second thought, maybe I don’t.

The BEST part of this process is when I receive letters back from students telling me about their lives in the present.

Yes, I miss teaching.

They’ll Always Be My Kids

I read a story about a former 5th grade teacher from Newport Beach, Ca. Her former students from 1966 are throwing a party for her.
She states, “They’ll always be my kids.”

I’m in the process of finding my sixth grade students from 1989-90, when I taught in Anaheim, Ca. I reunited with one in person last year. For three hours she and I reminisced about our lives then and discussed our lives now. She’s married with two children. We had a thoroughly adult conversation until the man next to us at the coffee shop asked how we knew each other.
“She’s my sixth grade teacher.” (Yes, I’m almost positive she used the present tense.)

Immediately I felt how much I’ve carried my students in my heart for 20 years. They’re my kids. Still. I put a protective arm around her and gave her a hug before I asked the man to take our picture.

My friend Jeff used to make fun of me when I spoke of my students. I’d say, “Oh, my kids and I discussed that in class.” Jeff would reply, “Your kids. You sound like Jerry Lewis with his kids.” I’d insist, “But they ARE my kids”. Now, I’m sure Jerry cares about his kids, but I knew more about my kids, by watching them grow for seven hours a day, five days a week for a school year.

So far I’ve found three of my students from that year. Only 29 more to go.
You can read the story here.