An Educator’s Inspiration

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Mary Anne Zak

Thank you, Observer, for the serendipity which surprised me in your March issue. Jane Shipp’s article and the photograph “warmed the cockles of my heart.”

The warming sent me to Wikipedia to refresh my memory about cockles. Along with the mussels which Molly Malone sang out to sell on the streets of Dublin (as her mother and father had done before her), cockles was familiar as a seafood.

Wikipedia offered another meaning: ventricles of the heart, the “pumping system of the heart.” One can envision the heart’s connection with ventricles and cockles.

Connecting with my own heart and deeply appreciated are Jane Shipp’s kind words about my being an educator. I loved teaching and rued occasions when I failed it.

Life provided many signs pointing to education as my calling. Two were an aunt and a great- aunt who spent their lives in classrooms, the latter in a one-room schoolhouse in New Hampshire. About a century ago, a former student made her a sturdy pine tool chest which now holds mementos.

An early “To Education” sign came at the age of four or five when my mother took me to a kindergarten open house. Child-size chairs and people mesmerized me, especially when the teacher waved her arms, blew a note on a pitch pipe, and the children sang.

Arriving home, I went to my room and lined up dolls on my bed. Opening a children’s songbook across their laps, using a toy harmonica as a pitch pipe and waving my arms as the kindergarten teacher had done, I directed the dolls’ singing.

And sing they did! They excited my imagination making clear that I wanted to teach!!

So did another sign years later. A young teacher shared a reflection beginning

“They ask me why I teach,

And I reply,

Where could I find more splendid company?”

(“They Ask Me Why I Teach” Glennice L. Harmon (NEA Journal 37, No. 1 (September 1948): 375)

Harmon described the splendid company as statesmen, writers, doctors, builders, ministers, farmers, merchants, and teachers. Later nurses, mechanics, scientists, musicians, poets, painters, first responders, parents, and all human beings were added.

Celebrating idealism, Harmon’s vision of teaching was noble, her expression eloquent, and her impact profound. Perhaps the most powerful motivation for teaching, idealism, nurtures the profession. May it always do so and beckon people to join splendid company! 

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