Today Google posted one small line of text on their home page that was an ode to teachers. “Thank you to all the teachers on earth”. And it linked off to a video about space and how teachers bring it alive for their students. It really got me thinking as I have always held teachers in the highest regard. I appreciate the work they do and I know how dedicated many of them are to their profession and the children in their classrooms every day.
I had a conversation recently with a dear friend who had come to see a play that I was in. The play was Working, and it is a collection of vignettes based on a series of interviews that Studs Terkel conducted with real working people. The experience was a joyful one for me for lots of reasons. The community of actors and behind the scenes folks was wonderful. There were lots and lots of kids in the show and like many teachers I love being around kids. I got to make Rainbow Loom bracelets with some new friends who were 9 and 10 respectively. That’s how much fun I had. And while the show captured so many touching stories about the people who keep our world on track- the fireman, the trucker, the waitress, the mill worker, the mom.. The role that I played was the teacher. She was a 3rd grade teacher who had been teaching for 40 years and was pretty worn out from the whole thing. I think her real story was that she had watched the world change and was struggling to keep up. She wasn’t all that endearing as a character. She opened her monologue talking about what she would do when she really disliked a child. I had trouble with this. I had trouble with the whole thing- truth be told. The monologue was challenging and the song I sang even more challenging. But I am an actress and accepted the role. Here’s the deal about actors- their job is to bring their characters to life. I was coached by one of the directors to really own the part, to not be ambivalent about this teacher who believed in the rote method among other things. Just to be clear- I do not believe in the rote method. I am way too right-brained for that. But that was the text and that was the role, so I did my best to own it.
So back to my story. My friend, the retired teacher, expressed to me how upset she was that Studs Terkel had chosen that story and that character to represent “teachers”. She said that she thought my character was the only “unlikeable” character in the show. This upset me. It did not feel good. It was not that I felt maligned as a performer. I feel pretty confident that I did the best I could do with the role, but I felt sad that a member of the audience felt that way. I especially felt sad because I so appreciate teachers. I remember teachers that I have had along the way and am so thankful for the ways that they have shaped my life. There was my college writing professor who literally taught me how to write a coherent sentence. There was my 4th grade teacher, Miss Smith, who was very strict, but who taught me so many of the basics. There was my English teacher in high school who introduced me to so much great literature. I remember vividly the day that he introduced our classroom to the Myth of Sisyphus. That was a shocker. Seriously, are we all just rolling a rock up a big hill and never getting to the top?
I could go on for pages about the amazing teachers that I have known and not just in the classroom. What about the extraordinary people who have taught me new skills and amazing things about our world and yes even painful lessons . I myself have been a teacher in a variety of settings- at a camp, at a children’s theater program, in an elementary school music class. I like to think that I am a teacher in my work life. That I am sharing what I know and helping people see things in a new way. This is hard work, folks. This is not for the faint-hearted.
So today when I saw Google’s simple line of text, it made me stop and think and appreciate all of the teachers that I know and have known. And even if I had to portray a teacher that made my friends uncomfortable and dare I say, unappreciated, well.. I was playing a part. I was not expressing my personal beliefs. So thank you Google. And thank you to all the teachers on earth.