Teachers deserve more than day of appreciation


By Regina Villiers.  Originally published March 27, 1996 in The Suburban Life, added March 9, 2017.

Zachary Taylor DeMar was probably Madeira’s most colorful and most remembered teacher. He taught in Madeira from 1885 to 1921. He’s shown here (in doorway) with one of his classes. If you can identify any of these students or know the year of the photo, please let me know. Call 248-8600, ext. 241.

I’ve seen bumper stickers that say: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

I’d like to see bumper stickers say:  “If you can read anything thank a teacher.”  And we should thank them for other reasons, too, because teachers may be the most important influences in our lives.

We can officially thank the teachers in our lives on March 29, which will be National Teacher Appreciation Day.

I’m lucky to have had good teachers all my life.  My dad, who spent his entire life teaching, taught me to read and write before I was old enough to start to school.  In high school, he helped me to understand my algebra homework.  In college, he gave me an understanding of history.

My high school English teacher, Miss Glee Hume, has motivated, inspired and encouraged me to this day.  She encouraged and helped me to become a writer.  She also inspired me in all facets of my life.  She is “family,” and I could not love her more if we were related by blood.  I never wait for a special day to thank her.  I thank her every time I pick up a pen.

My two sons grew up in Madeira and attended Madeira schools until college.  They were fortunate, and we planned it that way.  We moved here and stayed here, because of the reputation and the quality of the schools.

But Madeira’s schools didn’t get their reputation or win their awards because of their walls or their cafeteria food.  Good teachers brought those awards.

Though it’s a disservice to start listing names, faces of teachers I should thank for influencing my kids to the good float through my mind:  Jo Van Blaricum, Marjorie Queenan, Tom Budde, Tom Graler, Steve Goodman, Charles Medert, Jay Hanson, Rosalie Lemkin…

My youngest, Kelly, probably would say his favorite was Jo Van Blaricum; but a high school English teacher he had for only a short time, Bennett Rafoth, did more to influence his life.  Mr. Rafoth nurtured something he saw in Kelly by encouraging his college newspaper.  Today, he’s a sportswriter and columnist for a daily newspaper in Georgia.

If pressed, Kevin, my oldest son, might say Charles Medert was his favorite.  Mr. Medert, who taught music and band for years on end, became a modern-day legend in Madeira schools.  After his death, the high school auditorium was named for him.  Kevin started trombone with him in the fourth grade and stayed in his band through high school graduation.  Mr. Medert gave kids that extra bit of attention that all kids need.

I used to know all the teachers in all three Madeira schools.  These days, I know only a handful at Dumont and a portion of those at the high school.  But I’m absolutely certain that all teachers there deserve our thanks.

At Sellman, I know all the teachers, because I worked there last spring in the 30 Day Program.  Believe me, I never saw a better group of dedicated, enthusiastic teachers.  When I walked through the doors each morning, their energy and enthusiasm washed over me like an April breeze.

I wish I could write about each of them and mention all their names.  Since that’s impossible, I’ll write about the one I know best, to represent them all.

Dianna Bartles, a fourth-grade teacher at Sellman, has been one of my best friends for years.  I admit to being totally biased about her as a person.  But I had never seen her in a classroom until I taught with her last year in the 30-day program.

To watch her rapport with her students is like watching a magic show.  She says it’s because fourth-grade children are the easiest age to teach.  I say the “age” of the teacher has a lot to do with it.  Inside, she’s still their age.  She understands their minds, their spirits, and their humor.

She disciplines and maintains order by threatening to sing.  “No, Please don’t,” they moan, in mock horror.  “We’ll be good.”  They turn and smile at each other.  It’s their little joke with their teacher.  But they settle down and pay attention.

In her reading class, reading becomes fun, and she creates readers, even of the non-readers.  When she reads to them, she weaves a spell.  She laughs and giggles at the funny books.  She cries over the ones that tough her.  Her laughter and her tears are real.  The kids know it’s not an act.  They react the same when they read, and they learn to love reading, as she does.

This is the woman who sat recently in Barnes and Noble, reading books in the children’s section, as she search for books to buy for her class.  As she read, oblivious to everything around her, tears started to run down her cheeks.  As she turned pages, her tears increased.

Nearby, a concerned clerk watched her.  Finally, the clerk walked over.  “Do you need help?” she asked.  “Is there anything I can do?”

“No,” Dianna sobbed, as she dabbed at her eyes.  “As you can see, I’m beyond help.  But I just love this book.”

She teaches with that same emotion.  She looks for good in kids, and she finds it.  And she never stops teaching.  No one works harder.

On March 29, National Teacher Appreciation Day, thank Dianna Bartles.  Or thank any of your child’s teachers.  Thank teachers from your past, or thank their families.  Or just write to me and tell me about the teachers you remember the most.

Teachers are important to all of us.  Let’s appreciate them, if only for a day.