One night I rattled off a memorized list of linking verbs I've known since seventh grade to help Elizabeth, our fourth grader, power through her homework assignment. The look of amazement that spread across her face was priceless. I went on to explain what my English teachers at South Junior High and Central High School in Grand Forks had taught me.
First, it was Mrs. Carney in English and Mrs. Kalka in literature in seventh grade. Then, it was Mrs. Skinner and Ms. Broyles, who became Mrs. Devine, in eighth grade and ninth grades. I had Mrs. Kalka and Mrs. Devine in speech and journalism in high school.
Why do I still remember these teachers' names and their lessons after all these years?
I wasn't a teacher's pet.
I didn't get all As in their classes. Their teaching challenged me and, at times, I struggled in their classes.
I talked too much in their classes.
My teachers were not my parents' friends.
Their impact and the lasting memories are a direct result of their teaching. It was a rigid teaching style with high expectations to improve my speaking, writing and reading skills.
The discipline taught in my English teachers' classrooms impacts my expectations for my children, their classes, their schoolwork and their future careers.
My ability to find my voice through speaking and writing was honed through their teaching,
My mind is filled with a vivid reel of memories from their classrooms. For example, Mrs. Carney called us all by our formal, given names. It was the first time someone other than my dad called me "Kathryn," and it wasn't because I was in trouble.
There was no commotion or debate. No one talked back. She told us to write our homework down in our crisp new planners on the first day of seventh grade. Our class was silent in Mrs. Carney's presence from that moment on. She was in charge. She was strict and firm and wasn't there to be our friend. She taught us and insisted we memorize grammatical lists such as linking verbs and prepositions. We diagrammed sentences. We wrote papers. It seemed mindless and redundant at the time. But Mrs. Carney's teaching style was effective. She wasn't there to be liked or popular. She was there to teach, which she did for 42 years.
As I was writing this column, I found Mrs. Carney's phone number and left her a message. She called me right back and said in her lighthearted, yet signature stern, tone, "If you have any makeup work to turn in, I'll see you at 3:30 p.m." I assured her my makeup work was all in and thankfully, I no longer needed to stay after school for English.
Mrs. Carney and I visited about teaching styles, how we speak, read and write English. We discussed the details of writing, audiences and the importance of communication. Mrs. Carney said, "Make sure you get those grammar skills into your fourth grader. They are essential."
I said, "I am 39 years old now. I have never told you I appreciate your teaching and the impact you had on me. Thank you."
Mrs. Carney offered for me to stop by and "ring the doorbell" the next time I'm in town for a visit. I will.
While trying to track down my other English teachers, I read Mrs. Skinner's obituary from March 2015 online. Life is precious and too short.
I am a strict mother who enforces proper English and encourages reading literature. With my husband, I am trying to raise a next generation of kids prepared to speak, write and read, as my teachers taught me.
There has never been a better time to join me in thanking a teacher in your life. Do you remember the teachers whose positive lessons are still with you today? Find them. An online search takes less than five minutes. Pick up the phone or send a note. Thank a teacher.