Opinion: We don’t need no education
Nicki Salcedo now has a regular feature on Atlanta Loop called “Zero Mile.” It runs every Wednesday. To read the latest installment, click here.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
The government did not educate me. Teachers did. If you ask me about my favorite teacher, I will start listing all of them. I’m one of the lucky ones. I had great teachers.
In 3rd grade, Ms. Lambeth encouraged us to write poetry.
In 5th grade, Ms. Hunter gave me a special project. I was a good reader. Each day, I went to the library to make an audio recording of a chapter from our science book. This was to help a struggling student (she never told me who) keep up with our lessons.
In 6th grade, I thought that Mr. King was mean. He taught math. He was the first male teacher I ever had. He was tall and serious all of the time. It took me a long time to realize that he wasn’t mean. He wanted me to try harder in math. Eventually, I did try harder. Not only in 6th grade, but every grade after. When I think of him, I feel like I owe him an apology.
Mr. Bentley loved science. In 8th grade, he took us to the Okeefeenokee swamp. I spent my 14th birthday away from my parents on that trip. It was one of those experience that had a big impact on my entire life. Even today. I’d never seen anything in the world before that trip. I learned to notice the animals and vegetation and the night sky. I am 42 years old, and when I look up at the sky I think of my 8th grade science teacher.
His best buddy was Mr. Baird, the English teacher. He liked to hunt and fish and read. We read “Shane,” “The Outsiders,” and “Where the Red Fern Grows.” I cried over all those books. In my mind, I see Mr. Baird sitting across from me on a pontoon boat with an alligator swimming in the dark waters behind him.
Mr. Zittrouer was an excellent math teacher. I had him twice. Math made sense to him, and he made sense of it to us. He had blond hair that curled like Michelangelo’s David, but he was so very Southern. His accent made me believe that he was teaching us life lessons and not Trigonometry and Calculus.
Ms. Davidson (formerly known as Ewing) made us study the play “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry. I read the part of Beneatha Younger in front of the class. She made me do it, despite my protestations. I was in the 10th grade. It is still one of my favorite plays.
She gave me Langston Hughes. What happens to a dream deferred? Does it explode? Or do we keep dreaming? That was a life time ago, but I’m still dreaming. Maybe even more than I did back then.
We read Victor Hugo. We went to see “Les Misérables” at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. Ms. Davidson took a bunch of public school kids from Stone Mountain, Georgia to see a Broadway show at night. We dressed up. We thought about revolution.
Ms. Speidel let me write an AP English paper on Julie Garwood’s “The Secret.” It was about “Friendship and Feminism in the Romance Novel.” She did this very grudgingly, but I had already read all the books on the assigned reading list like “Cry, the Beloved Country.” I think she liked my little bit of bravery.
Ms. Wyatt taught AP American History. I read “The House Made of Dawn” in her class. History was not just dates and facts, but stories. She had one of those smiles. The kind of smile that made you believe she was happy to be teaching you.
Mr. Crawford taught Physics. He was dry and soft spoken. He wasn’t overly friendly. He was fair, and we could tell that he loved what he did. He let us create the Science Club, because I needed more science than the regular school day would allow.
Mr. Reid (now Ph.D. I think) was a guru of Chemistry. He had a joke for every day of school.
A proton and a neutron are walking down the street.
The proton says, “Wait, I dropped an electron help me look for it.”
The neutron says “Are you sure?” The proton replies “I’m positive.”
I still laugh at puns because of him. That’s what you get with a public school education.
Ms. Mayweather would tell us a daily affirmation. “I am lovable and capable.” She asked us to repeat this phrase before we started any science lesson. It was 8th grade. She believed that loving ourselves was the precursor to learning. She was serious about our accuracy in the lab. She treated us like little adults.
In recent years I’ve seen Ms. Mayweather, Ms. Davidson, Ms. Wyatt, and my counselor Ms. Rita Winings (she was Ms. Shredder back in the day if you want to pull out my old yearbooks). I still feel the excitement of learning. I still feel their guidance and instruction.
I don’t need the government to do anything for my kids. They will learn, even if it is about Captain Kirk. They will learn to think and treat history with respect. The government can’t do that.
The government, which some claim needs to be small, seems to be getting bigger. I want politicians to think about my teachers. The ones who studied education and placed their lives and livelihood on the hope of kids like me. They are dependent on the rest of us citizens for their salary and health insurance and sick leave and retirement. They are dependent on people who may never have kids to care about the future of all kids.
My kids love going to school. I’ve taught them that teachers are important. Learning and listening are important. I’m asking my children to do what many adults won’t do. Listen. Learn. I’m thankful for the teachers who taught me. I pray without ceasing for the teachers who care for my children. There is no one way to educate a child. The teachers who touched my life did different things. They were experts in different areas, but the same in the care they provided.
We shouldn’t put the kids first. We should put the teacher first, and the children will follow.
I still see Mr. Bentley as he crouched over a deer killed by poachers. Her eyes were still open. The wound almost imperceptible. My science teacher asked us not to touch the body, but he did carefully. We watched, not understanding our grief.
Nicki Salcedo is a novelist, blogger and working mom who lives in Decatur.