12 March 2011


Women's History Month challenge for March 12 — Working girl: Did your mother or grandmother work outside the home? What did she do? Describe her occupation.

Schoolhouse and church, South Dakota

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the girls in my family tend to teach, not preach. Give us a subject and students, and we're off. If we're learning along with the students, so much the better. If the students know more than we do, we'll happily switch places. There's such an infinity of learning out there. We'll be signing up for classes, giving and receiving, in the nursing home, whether they like it or not.

I'm writing this at a time when teachers are underpaid, overworked and under attack. They've never been paid enough, but at one time they were at least highly respected for the unbelievable work they do.

None of my grandparents had the opportunity to go to college. All of their children did. It was a major way for our grandparents to prove to themselves and to the world that the Depression was over and that they could put their children as far ahead in life as possible. When Shirley was a little girl and showing signs of significant smarts, her grandmother could not imagine anything more wonderful than for Shirley to grow up and become a teacher. It was one of the most honored positions in the country towns and settlements of their experience, and one of the few that was considered to be appropriate for a woman at that time.

Shirley al fresco

Shirley did in fact become a middle school English teacher, after earning a journalism degree, raising four children with Ralph and taking care of everyone around her--parents, animals (both domestic and wildlife rehab), gardens....she is a born caretaker and turned out to be a born teacher for a challenging age group. As a teacher, Shirley was a winner. She only left when teaching to the test became more important than teaching the subject. But I'll stay off that soapbox for now.

Women have been teaching the pre-college crowd for a very long time. I still see one-room schoolhouses up here on the prairies and wonder what it was like for the teacher who had to handle everything. In my lifetime, women have become the majority of students in colleges and are gaining parity at the faculty level.

But the other winner has to be our cousin Marsha Johnson, who took her high school science classes into the wild blue yonder to do science. We were so thrilled for and proud of her. Who in the 1950s could have imagined what science education would be when the country first put an emphasis on it?

Cousin Marsha and her class in the NASA sub-gravity parabolic flight.

Can you imagine what these high school students thought about their teacher Mrs. Johnson, who literally took them into the air?

Teachers hold our society together. Please don't ever forget that. More than anyone else, they reach out and touch the future.

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