A Piece I Am Piecing

142312999_b344dbe2a2_o1I’ve been wrestling with finding time to write.  Here is part of a larger reflection that I am working on.

The Quilt

When I began my career at this school there was a tradition of having new teachers speak at an all school gathering to introduce themselves to the school community.  I am not sure why we do not continue to do this.  I know that we have grown in size as a faculty, that we have larger numbers of teachers each year who are new, that we now have a new teachers’ committee, and that some people thought this practice was new teacher hazing.  Hazing?  Not to me: I loved these presentations.  I enjoyed seeing a new science teacher explain, in English heavily accented with his Chinese pronunciations, that all motion was relative by having two Barbie dolls approach each other from opposite directions in their fabulous convertibles and that CPB did not stand for Chemistry, Physics, Biology but Come Play with Barbie.  I still remember that our technology facilitator loves the music of John Denver.  These were moments that helped me to know these teachers in ways they wanted to be known.

My turn to speak came when I was a new teacher for the second time.  As a mid-season replacement for a legendary teacher on long-term disability, I began at school in January.  In the fall, when I continued to teach in the upper school, I was asked to be a part of the new teacher presentation and to choose an object that might help the community understand me, who I was as a person as well as a teacher.  One of my prized possessions is a quilt, in what I always think of a strawberry pattern, that was made by three of my grandmothers.  My mother’s paternal grandmother and great-grandmother pieced the quilt top. My maternal grandmother unpacked and quilted it along with two other quilt tops.  

Shared effort

This asynchronous collaboration has always struck me as meaningful.  The three women created something beautiful and practical that was then given to me.  To me it represented the kinds of threads that bind us together as people.  There is the warp and weft of the fabric, the shape of the individual pieces connected by a running thread, the three layers of fabric, and the quilting – the pattern that overlays the individual pieces and connects the top, the batting, and the back.  All of these individual pieces come together to create the whole, and the three women whose efforts created this quilt worked together but not simultaneously.  It was their cumulative effort that created the quilt.  While I never met my great-grandmothers, I know them through the work of their hands and their hearts.  It is like teaching; we never know what shape our students will take, and we collaborate with all the other teachers that have ever or will ever be a part of our students’ lives.  

That day at in front of the school I talked about the amazing women who have been the quilters of my life, the grandmothers and mother who have been helped shape the teacher I have become.  I’ve thought more about those women and I only really have stories about my grandmother and my mother.  Both women were teachers; Grandma taught in a one-room school and later second grade, and Mom was an English teacher who wore many hats before landing in the High School library.  I grew up with their stories about colleagues and students, lived for a snow day at home, and knew that my life could take whatever shape I wanted it to.  Teaching always seemed to me to be the only professional job available to the women of my mother and grandmother’s generations.  Grandma left “sister” school in Minneapolis to return home and get a job teaching when finances began to crumble in South Dakota in the 1920s.  Mom went back to work as a teacher in Montana when my father was struggling with work, and when he eventually made his spontaneous and permanent exit from our lives, she returned to work as a teacher in South Dakota.

Me?  A Teacher? No Way!

As a child who came of age in the 1970s, in the zeitgeist of the Equal Rights Amendment, Roe v Wade, and Ms. Magazine, I could never have foreseen my eventual love of teaching.  Teaching?  That was what my mother did!  I could never imagine that I would want to teach.  Although my grandmother urged me to take a typing class, promising that it would come in handy, I was sure that if I knew how to type, somehow I would end up typing.  Typing?  I had skills!  I was a thinker!  I was off to college and the world was at my feet.  So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that at all my jobs I had ended up teaching people something.  It did finally occur to me that if I was a teacher that wasn’t teaching, I should just accept reality and get that degree.

My Quilt

The pieces of my personal quilt began to come together.  The form and shape of my personal quilt I take from my maternal lineage, but it was not until a few years ago that I realized that it was my father’s family that provides much of the color and character within the pieces of my personal quilt.  My father’s mother’s family gathers for a five-day reunion every other summer.  I was at one of these biennial family reunions and it occurred to some of us that it was rather like a teacher convention.  Here we were at a camp in southern Minnesota with teachers from all over the country, and we were all related.  Well, what an amazing coincidence, we all thought.  Isn’t it funny how we all became teachers or married teachers or both?

Part 2 to Come – All those teachers

Quilt pic by Flickr member misocrazy

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Liz says:

    Just like going to school at State wasn’t an option, becoming a teacher wasn’t. We were heartily discouraged from even thinking about it.

    1. Kate Tabor says:

      @Liz – curious that we should have been discouraged from teaching but not typing (well, at least they encouraged me to type). I think it came down to money. Teachers in SD made/make squat, and I know that wanting an easier financial time of it for all of us was surely part of it. That, and I think they both underestimated the value of their work. Value=Salary. You can’t eat with psychic pay.

  2. charlieroy says:

    @ Kate
    You’re making me regret letting my sister have my grandmother’s quilt after she passed. Maybe I’ll steal it at Christmas.

    1. Kate Tabor says:

      @charlieroy – you might try and coax that quilt away from your sister. For me quilts are an enduring symbol of all the pieces coming together to make something novel. With a jigsaw puzzle, you know what the picture is before you start. With a quilt, there are few people that I have known who have the vision to know what it will look like when the sewing is done. And then, you have the quilt. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

      1. charlieroy says:

        @ Kate
        Luckily my sister is nun so as long as I outlive her I should eventually have the quilt. If she beats me out in that regard, I’ll request she send it to my nephews. Although I could let her superior know she is technically violating her vow of poverty by being a quilt hoarder.

  3. Paul C says:

    My father was a farmer of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and greenhouse cucumbers. It was a busy and productive life with many wonderful features that I enjoyed, but he did not want me to farm. Now I live off a severed lot from the farm and taught English for 32 years until I recently retired. Best of both worlds: a vegetable cornucopia.

    1. Kate Tabor says:

      @Paul – isn’t it interesting how our parents wanted something different for us, and yet our lives as children call to us as adults. My father’s family had a legacy of higher education – that’s part of the next section of the essay. There is something about the stitching together here that I am still trying to understand. So many teachers in one family, yet Mom and Grandma wanted something different for us all. Nature? Nurture? Maybe writing about it will help me make sense of it.

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