Think back to all the teachers you’ve ever had. There may be a couple you are more than happy to forget about, but I’m sure there are a chosen few that rise to the top of the list. If we’re really lucky almost everyone has at least one teacher they could never forget. For me personally, I know I’ll never forget my very first teacher – Mrs. Bentz. Thanks to her, I have very vivid memories of my experience in preschool. Mrs. Bentz ensured that each preschooler felt supported and loved and worthy of her attention. I can still recall the extremely specific feeling of joy after receiving praise from her. I’d say she did her job right if I still have such fond memories of her after all these years, and I think Dr. Boyer would agree.
In fact, Dr. Boyer himself did not shy away from reminiscing about his former teachers. In a number of speaking engagements he recalled a night when he couldn’t fall asleep and instead of counting sheep, decided to count his past teachers. Like most of us, one name in particular towered above them all – Miss Rice, his first grade teacher.
Here’s what Dr. Boyer had to say about his recollections of her:
On the first day of school she said, “Good morning class, today we learn to read.'” Those were the first words I ever heard in school. We spent all day on four words – “I go to school.” We traced them, we sang them, we even prayed them. I ran home that night ten-feet tall, and, announced proudly to my mother, “Today I learned to read.” I doubt I had mastered decoding but I had been taught something much more fundamental. Miss Rice had taught me that language is the centerpiece of learning. Fifty years later, when I got around to trying to write a book called High School, I had a chapter right up front entitled “Literacy: The Essential Tool.” And in our book on College, we have a chapter on the essentialness of language. I say that to pay tribute to an unremembered first-grade teacher – Fairview Avenue Elementary School, Dayton, Ohio, 1930 – who said something of the foundations of formal learning and shakes my thinking to this day. Great teachers live forever.
Miss Rice had no way of knowing that her presence in young Ernie Boyer’s life would be so monumental. Nor could Mrs. Bentz say with certainty that her preschool students would remember her fondly as adults. These two women were simply doing their jobs and being great teachers.
To read more about Dr. Boyer’s experience as a first grader and his thoughts on acknowledging teachers read, “A Celebration of Teaching.”