A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, March 20, 2011


The first was Mr. Shaver, my 8th Grade history teacher. He was the toughest teacher in the school, which, paradoxically, meant he was also the most popular. He expected only the best from us, and none of us wanted to disappoint him. So we surprised ourselves by doing better than we ever dreamed we could. Mr. Shaver died last year.
The next was Mrs. Helgesson, my high school English teacher. She managed to convince us that learning in general, and English literature in particular, were jolly good fun. It was a priceless lesson we have carried with us our whole lives. She died last year, too, a few months after Mr. Shaver.
I already told you a few weeks ago about Mr. Occhipinti, the history teacher who challenged us to write what he considered an "intelligent" book review of "Huckleberry Finn." I didn't take him up on it then, but how many times do you think I've written and re-written that report in my mind in the years since?
But my favorite was Mr. Rosemond, a history teacher who had just moved to California from Massachusetts. And I was his favorite student - or, at least, I was his favorite on the west coast. His favorite on the east coast was a kid named Randy Alfred whom he had taught in junior high back in Massachusetts.
As luck would have it, Randy and I ended up at the same college. So on the first day of freshman year, I marched up to him and handed him a letter of introduction from Mr. Rosemond. And we've been friends ever since.
Mr. Rosemond died shortly after Randy and I graduated from college. We still talk about him all the time. And we still miss him.
These are the people who made me who I am. They taught me lots of great stuff, but they did more: They nurtured and encouraged me every step of the way. And I'll bet you have a similar list.
A few years ago I worked part time as a substitute teacher in the West Contra Costa School District. I was gratified to find that there are still lot of Mr. Rosemonds and Mrs. Helgessons out there, trying their hardest to educate and nurture the next generation, despite the low pay and lousy working conditions.
And yet it seems to be open season on teachers these days. They're being blamed for everything that's wrong with our education system, when the truth is that they're the only thing that's right.
Yeah, yeah, I've heard the talk: They only work nine months out of the year, and they get off work at 3:15.
But let me tell you: Teaching is the hardest job I've ever done. There are no breaks, even for a second, because you have to pay constant attention to 30 different people. After nine months of this, you need a vacation just to catch your breath again.
And as far as getting off at 3:15, the workday actually goes on well into the night. Somebody has to grade all those exams, term papers and homework assignments, and make lesson plans for the next day.
Our teachers are the most valuable asset we have because without them, there is no next generation. It's time we started treating them as such.