Dear English Teachers,
Thank you for inspiring me to love to read. Thank you for teaching me iambic pentameter, the difference between a metaphor and a simile, and a bunch of other stuff that I couldn’t have been less interested in at the time.
Now that I’m 43, I appreciate the creativity you put into teaching me to be literate. I don’t know how anyone can get a group of students to do anything constructive for five minutes, let alone come back and do it day after day. You’re all heroes. Sometimes I got straight A’s, other times I was dismally less productive, but in either case, you were all there, inspiring me to read and write.
Mr. Durkee, in eighth grade, you assigned us to write a story about ourselves from the point of view of a piece of our clothing. At the time, I thought you were wacky, and I still kind of do, but it has to be said that 30 years later, I remember your assignments, including some of what I wrote in The Truth About Barb Guy by Penny and Lenny Loafer.
I’m not saying I wrote anything good. I’m just saying I was engaged in the project. In ninth grade, you were the adviser for the journalism staff. You called all of us by our last names, just like we were real cub reporters. We loved that.
Mr. Frank, one day you had each of us choose a different vocabulary word out of a hat. One by one we came to the front of the classroom to act out the word until everyone could guess what it was. I still remember the girl who tried so hard to get us to guess “insipid.” It was memorable, and I learned the word.
You also sent us to restaurants that show local artists’ work and had us review the art and the food, a dandy illustration of two ways writing can pay the rent.
Ms. Jacobs, you taught me to love the newspaper. You were obsessed with the editorial page. I remember you encouraging us to write letters to the Tribune’s Public Forum. I wrote one about the Equal Rights Amendment and the Trib ran it. You loved politics and you told us that political careers are won and lost in the newspaper. You taught us about big-city papers and you challenged us to tell them apart, even the Chicago Sun-Times from the Chicago Tribune.
I’ve seen Gov. Olene Walker speak a few times and she asks everyone in attendance to spend 20 minutes a day reading with a child. Gov. Walker’s point, I think, is that every kid, every single one, will have a better life if she is able to read and write well.
You teachers are doing your part, but the governor is right, the rest of us should be helping.
The Utah Legislature has a chance to help at the moment. Gov. Walker has asked for $30 million for her Performance Plus reading program. She has this dream that every kid in Utah should be reading at grade-level by third grade. She wants a 2 percent pay increase for teachers. These things don’t seem like a lot to ask.
A few years ago, legislators got worried that we’d be embarrassed for looking like a bunch of hayseeds during the Olympics, so they actually liberalized some of our liquor laws. Maybe now they’d like to worry about the fact that Utah pays less per student for education than anyone else in the country, even weighing in $249 per student below Mississippi.
Seriously, Mississippi. That’s embarrassing.
So while the Legislature is mulling this over, I wanted to thank all of Utah’s great teachers and I sincerely hope that the Legislature thanks you as well, because education is important. It’s what determines how lives turn out.
One day a student can be going through a phase of smoking cigarettes behind the bleachers, and before you know it, she grows up and someone asks her to write something for the newspaper. Anyway, that’s what happened to me. So thank you to all the teachers who helped me along the way. It’s because of you that I was prepared for my assignment.
Barb Guy works for a nonprofit corporation and lives in Salt Lake City. She has written several columns for The Tribune.