"This is a time of new beginnings" was posted on the sign in front of the expansive white church along Route 10. I, and many other drivers that night read the lit up words shining in the darkness and began to imagine September. No doubt for many this involves the start of school and the process of transition. And as challenging as it can be for children and parents, it is also a challenge for teachers who have to get used to an entire set of new faces and personalities as they help the cords of learning connect once again.To lessen the nervousness that can come with these changes, those of us who are parents sometimes share with our children memories from our school experience. In the midst of the telling we remember what it was like to be called on when we didn't know the answer and how long it took us to learn locker combinations. We also remember the exceptional teachers who left a lifelong imprint on our hearts and minds.
"Don't swallow your culture whole," Mr. J.Timothy Mundy used to remind our class of Octorara seniors when a popular viewpoint would be brought up for discussion. He looked every part the college literature professor, with sleeves rolled up, tie loosened and glasses sometimes far down his nose. It was our first clue to his college-level expectations for us. "You can do better than this" he would scrawl in red ink across the bottom of our paper. Mr. Mundy would not accept anything less than our absolute best effort. And we all wanted to win the 'A'. We knew if we did it was a thoroughly deserved and sweated-for 'A'.
Swirling in existential thought as well as Thomas Hardy, Arthur Miller, and Sylvia Plath, we came to see it wasn't just about grades but about who we were becoming as people-were we willing to give it everything to zero in on the truth of the work or were we willing to settle for mediocrity with a lukewarm effort? "Never forget," he said, "Critical readers, writers and thinkers change the world."
My Social Studies teacher, Mr. John J. Farren, also communicated this reality. Tall, lanky, red-bearded Mr. Farren also paid tribute to the serious intellectual pursuit of truth and clear and thorough understanding. With fat stubs of colored chalk, he wrote thought-provoking sayings and quotes that we would mull over for days and then discuss. He also used newspaper articles to accomplish these objectives.
Each week students had to choose a relevant piece of news and answer a list of questions in written form. Those who had constructed the most thoughtful responses were asked to share with the class. Then as a group we would ask questions, offer opinions and have further discussion about the issues raised in the articles. For many of us it was a new inroad to the 'serious adult world' of our parents, most of whom, read the newspaper on a daily basis. We started realizing what we were reading was more than just information but rather part of the larger picture of being a developed, aware, thinking person. To sift through and measure out these ideas and positions to see where we stood was a change that set the stick shift of our lives into forward motion toward the future
Those of us who have had the privilege of learning the value of thought from excellent teachers have been blessed and well-equipped to give back to our families, community and world. It is amazing to see where new beginnings can lead.