[This column was originally published on May 1, 2016.]
When I remember my fourth-grade teacher, I see a woman with strawberry-blond hair wearing a prim dress. In my mind, she bears a close resemblance to the character Ethel Mertz from “I Love Lucy.”
But Mrs. Crane’s class was no sitcom. She was strict and task-oriented, and her students learned quickly that acting out would not be tolerated. At first we feared her. As time wore on, we feared disappointing her.
With May designated as National Teacher Appreciation Month, it’s a fitting time to celebrate all the educators who inspire and support students, and who drive learning forward by nurturing their aspirations as well as their aptitudes. It’s important, too, to recognize those who have shaped our own lives. This column is about one in particular.
Mrs. Crane might seem an unusual nominee for favorite teacher. By today’s standards, she wouldn’t be perceived as especially warm or affable. But she showed love in other ways, teaching us with patience and holding us to the highest of expectations, no matter our socioeconomic backgrounds. And when she did flash a smile or send a compliment in your direction, it was currency.
By the time I reached the fourth grade at Eastman Elementary School in Los Angeles, my family had moved many times, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I liked school. But something changed in that portable classroom building out on the Eastman blacktop, where many of us trekked from a nearby housing project.
Not once did Mrs. Crane express pity or make us feel like we were less than capable. Investing whatever time was necessary, she guided the class through the fundamentals of reading, teaching us to attack words with passion and vigor. We were going to spell these new words, pronounce them correctly and read them in context, and that was that.
Her patience and persistence solidified my ability to read that year, but her impact on my life goes much deeper. Mrs. Crane helped instill a love of learning, and her work opened my mind to receive inspiration from other great educators. That long list includes Mr. Massey, a gregarious junior high school social science teacher who acted out the parts of historical figures, and Mr. Purcell, a 10th-grade biology teacher who saw potential and encouraged me to pursue college.
Very recently, I was having a conversation about favorite teachers, and I was asked if I ever returned to Mrs. Crane as an adult to tell her of the profound impact she’s had on my life. Sadly, the answer is no. Sometime after transitioning grade levels and changing schools, I lost track of my fourth-grade teacher.
In this month dedicated to honoring teachers, I hope you will learn from my missed opportunity. Tell your favorite teachers — and your children’s favorite teachers — how much they mean to you. And to Mrs. Crane, and all of the Mrs. Cranes out there who have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the lives of children, holding them to nothing short of the highest standards, let me take this moment to thank you from the bottom of my heart.