Thanking Providence Teachers
Well, Providence parents, this is the end.
That may sound dire, but I feel joy as I write it. We’ve reached the end of the 2020-21 school year, and I’m pretty certain there will not be another quite like it in the foreseeable future. God has been so good to us. He has protected us and provided for us. He has given us the gift of this school community. Teachers and children have been together, face-to-face, on campus, all year long. And so many good things have cascaded from that simple mercy of normalcy.
So we all thank our great God and Father together.
And as the gratitude abounds, let’s let it spill over onto our marvelous Providence teachers. Your child’s teacher has been a great gift to your children and to your whole family, indeed to many future generations yet to come. So, to help inspire your giving of thanks, I’m sharing an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in September 2019. Written by Fay Vincent, who served as commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1989 to 1992, the article reminds us how important it is to say thank you to our teachers.
Who are the teachers from your own education you look back on with profound thanks and admiration? What did they do for you? Were you able to thank them? Feeling gratitude is good, but expressing words of thanks is even better.
I Should Have Thanked My Teachers: I regret I never told them how profound their effect on me was
By Fay Vincent
The Book of Common Prayer contains this majestic passage: “Almighty and most merciful Father . . . We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.” To my great regret, I left undone the simple act of telling two superb teachers how much they contributed to my early education. Now it is too late.
Ruth Hammerman taught English to the eighth-graders at our Putnam Avenue grammar school in the New Haven, Conn., suburb of Hamden. She was the first to instill in me the rules of what Evelyn Waugh called our “rich and delicate language.” She was in her 20s, slim and fresh from the University of Michigan, where one of her mentors was the poet Donald Hall, who had also grown up in our town.
Miss Hammerman was a no-nonsense instructor. We learned to parse sentences and to identify the parts of speech. She diagramed sentences so we could identify the nominative and objective cases. She never seemed to tire of the simple pleasures of sharing her learning.
She had the gift of her conviction that language deserves to be well-spoken and properly written. Yet over the years I never made the effort to find her and to express my abundant gratitude for what she did for me. Two years after being in her class, I began the study of Latin, French and Greek, and the foundation she provided in English grammar served me well. Sadly, I never looked back.
In high school I took advanced French at Hotchkiss in a class taught by Richard Miller, the finest teacher I ever experienced at any level. His course was intense and conducted in French. We read Voltaire and Racine, Pascal and La Rochefoucauld. Mr. Miller was a polymath. Hotchkiss lore held that he’d invented a radar device to alert ships of hidden obstacles and that it was aboard the ill-fated Andrea Doria in 1956 when it was sunk by a collision with another ship. According to the legend, the machine had been turned off.
Mr. Miller was quiet and distant in class, but he brought to his subject an astonishingly fresh analytic insight. Reading “Phèdre,” Racine’s classic tragedy, he asked us to note there were 1,654 lines in the play, and then pointed out the care Racine devoted to structure. Only a mathematical mind like Mr. Miller’s would have noted that la crise—the crisis—appears exactly halfway through the play. Years later I made the same point—giving Mr. Miller credit—in a college French class, and my professor was astonished by the insight. Mr. Miller taught us to approach literature with a wider aperture. Yet I never made the effort in later years to tell him what he meant to me.
Mr. Miller is certainly long dead. If she is alive, Miss Hammerman would likely be in her 90s. In preparing this article, I attempted to track her down but was unsuccessful.
I am certain my act of omission is common. People often fail to thank their teachers. I ought to have told Miss Hammerman and Mr. Miller how much they did for me. I suspect they knew their work was effective because they trusted in the merits of what they were doing. Now I appreciate how special they were.