My third grade teacher, Marie Peithman, received me for exactly who I was. She was a breath of fresh air after a second grade tyrant who made me stand on tiptoes with my nose in a chalk-drawn circle on the board, just for talking. Mrs. Peithman was kind, and had appropriately high expectations. I remember feeling a sense of freedom to let my creativity flow, through projects such as a miniature Mardi Gras float. For years I kept a set of pink elephants made from sawdust clay, as well as a clothespin doll that belonged to the Mardi Gras float. In hindsight, I believe she recognized that I was a free spirit and gave me to space to be myself. She had her boundaries on that, however. The most memorable example was with cursive handwriting. Being a lefty, I turned my hand so the letters leaned the same way as those of my right-handed classmates. She even went so far as putting a piece of tape at a diagonal across my desk as a guide for hand placement. On more than one occasion, I recall ripping the tape off. Each time, it was persistently replaced. Mrs. Peithman’s kindness far outweighed her insistence on correct cursive hand placement, and to this day if I had to choose a favorite childhood teacher, it would be her. I’ve thought of her lately as we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week.
In the past seven weeks my appreciation for our Seed teachers has sky-rocketed. In mid-March we closed the Seed due to COVID-19, and in a matter of a few days they had to put together an entirely new approach to teaching that involved a lot of technology. There was a steep learning curve for awhile, and gradually we’ve settled into a routine. An incredible amount of planning and preparation goes into sustaining this approach to learning, often with little feedback or response. Yet the teachers keep offering lessons, activities and experiences for children, hoping that pieces of it will resonate with some or all students. I continue to be impressed with the passion, kindness, and devotion to teaching that each of our staff members exhibits.
In a recent interview, Krista Tippett had this to say: “But, like so much else about this moment, I think the best we can do is try, in the moments when it’s not all too much…to think about what we’re learning. And to let that have its place in us. Again, poetry may be a way to anchor that so that we let these experiences, also, flow into what I do think is our ongoing evolution of learning, relearning, again, to be more whole within ourselves and with each other.” What I’ve learned from this time is that teachers, in their own ways, are front line responders. The work is often unseen, except when it comes forth in an exchange with students. It is a selfless profession, with the well-being of students at the forefront. More than anything, it is a path of love that is expressed in all kinds of ways. I have witnessed this over and over in the past month and a half as our teachers have responded to the present situation.
Today I found this quote from Robert Frost that describes our work as Seed teachers so accurately: “I am not a teacher; I’m an awakener.” What this implies is that the teacher sees the student and recognizes his/her potential. My third grade teacher was an awakener, and each teacher at the Seed is as well. It’s been this way since the school began, and these challenging times have brought this quality to the forefront. As we move forward, returning to our new version of normal, I’m certain all of the teacher-awakeners will discover new ways to help children make the best of this collective experience. The timing of Teacher Appreciation Week couldn’t be better. It’s given me a chance to reflect on the many teachers who have shaped my life, including Marie Peithman. I hope you will take some time to do the same for yourselves and your children.