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