Most people remember their favorite teachers, the ones who sparked their interest in physics or got them excited about Renaissance painters or writing short stories. I can still picture mine, particularly Jaye van Yzerlooy at Carondelet High School. “Mrs. Van” was a demanding, enthusiastic, sometimes frantic humanities teacher whose wardrobe, with those sometimes wild scarves, was as memorable as her ability to interest us in the classics.
Those who don’t go into teaching may not realize that teachers find many students just as memorable decades after they taught them math or hugged them when they were in tears after a playground slight.
Throughout my life, my mother, Vivian, has shared many stories about her students, from her first jobs in Sierraville and Pescadero, where she lived with local families and the schools were tiny, to Antioch Junior High, where she met my father, James ’35, also then a teacher. The Baby Boom classrooms she returned to after having six children in the 1960s had up to 60 students, but even then she knew her students, the good traits and bad, just as in those rural schools.
I’ve since met many people who remember having her as a teacher, including a lawyer who immediately recalled that she got him interested in reading. My mom found out he really liked pro sports, and told his mother to ask him to read sports section stories to her and he soon was reading more and more. When I told my mom I had met him, she said “Oh, I remember Danny,” and told me the same story.
I’ve been thinking about teachers, and students, a lot lately as we put together this issue, which explores different ways of teaching — as educator, as mentor, as fellow explorer on the path to creative and critical thinking. As I listened this spring to some Saint Mary’s-trained educators talk about the close relationships they develop with their students, I was struck by how often they mentioned the connection they felt with their students. One, who called teaching “a mission,” said she tries hard to guide each student and takes any failures hard. She said something that might have been said by any of our favorite teachers: “Some nights I go to bed thinking, ‘Why did I say that?’ You never can do it perfectly, and I hope that those good moments and your greatest efforts are the ones they remember.”