“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” - Theodore Roosevelt
It probably isn't news to anyone who reads this blog, but in case you haven't heard, this is Dad's last year of teaching! He recently announced that he will retire at the end of this school year, his 33rd.
I am THRILLED for him (and for Mom). Still, when he told me the news, I couldn't help but be sad for all the future third-graders who will never experience the magic of his class. Of course, as he reminded me, even now he teaches only 20 percent of the third-graders at his school. For thousands of other kids across the county, third grade is just another year, and most of them don't even know what they're missing.
I was going to write a limerick in honor of his retirement. It was harder than I expected.
On my first try I got as far as:
There once was a much-loved man
Who taught school in the hills of sand ...
Round two brought this:
There once was a third-grade teacher
Whose classroom was full of adventure.
Jack Tales and constellations,
Snake shows and the Declaration ...
His limerick-writing genius must have skipped a generation.
But then, I thought, it's just as well. How could I adequately portray the Mr. L. third-grade experience in five short, witty lines? What would I edit out?
Time spent on the nature trail, meandering through the Graveyard of the Pines and on toward the Black Lagoon (and maybe catching a black rat snake)? Eng Lang Pla, with its studies of tongue-twisters and palindromes and anagrams?
"The Hobbit" or "High Feather"? Meteor showers or mythology? The Christmas elf hunt? Field trips to the House in the Horseshoe? Reading on the magic carpet?
I can't speak for other former students, but a few of the highlights of my year in his class were sing-alongs; Aha!'s; becoming a master of multiplication and burning my times card; signing the classroom Declaration of Independence; and writing a five-star story (Dad's version of highest honors).
I'll never forget the time he hid that story inside the cover of a big book and read it to the class, who laughed at all the appropriate places -- and how proud I felt when, at the end, he revealed that I was the author.
He's the only teacher I ever had who got just as involved at recess as the students did. Remember the blob? And four-square tournaments? And those socks with the tennis balls inside them? At some point he's probably going to require knee-replacement surgery, and all those hours on the playground will be partly to blame ... not, I think, that he'd have it any other way.
"The highest function of education is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable of dealing with life as a whole." - J. Krishnamurti
In a field overflowing with uninspired, overworked, underpaid, slaves-to-EOG-tests teachers, Dad's energy and imagination and commitment to holistic education are nothing short of heroic.
He breaks all the rules and gets away with it thanks to a wonderful, supportive principal and results you can't argue with -- reflected in students' test scores and, equally important, the intangible ways in which they flourish under his guidance. When I meet a former student, or a parent of a former student, and introduce myself as his daughter, their eyes light up and I'm an instant celebrity by association.
(Carrie, my sister-in-law and an alumna of Dad's class, recently told me that she wasn't nervous about meeting me for the first time. "I knew I'd like you because you're Mr. L.'s daughter," she said.)
Though he's won every award out there, I believe his success is best measured by the students in whom he's instilled the beginnings of a lifelong appreciation for literature, personal responsibility, history, integrity, nature, critical thinking, logic, creativity, independence, writing, respect for others, language, music, perseverance ... the list goes on.
Here's to the most original, gifted, passionate teacher our county may have ever known. I love you, Dad!