The insult, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” makes about as much sense to me as the “Yo Mama” jokes, because anyone who knows my Mama knows that she’s not fat, or stupid, or ugly. Anyone who is familiar with education knows that those who can’t, quit teaching before they have 5 years under their belt. My mother operated both under the “Mama” label and the “teacher” label. She did not fit any of the derogatory stereotypes associated with the accompanying jokes.
My mother was a history teacher. She ate, breathed, and slept history. When not involved with school work or parenting, she was reading a historical novel, watching a historically based movie, or whisking us off on a historical learning experience. A large majority of our family vacations involved visiting historical sites around Texas or other related opportunities of historical interest. One summer my parents bought a pop-up camper and we visited a large number of Spanish missions all over the state.
Other vacations included a visit to the traveling Ramses II exhibit in Dallas, Mount Rushmore, Washington D.C, etc. For my senior trip, my parents took me to Europe. We visited castles, churches, museums, and my mother never tired of it. I distinctly remember sitting on a bench in Versailles, completely exhausted from walking and overwhelmed with “history” and being reprimanded for coming all that way and just sitting.
Growing up, history picture books for children filled our shelves, and our house was often full of projects to be graded; pyramids made out of sugar cubes, sarcophagus boxes containing Barbie dolls wrapped as mummies, and panoramas of Texas Indian villages. My mother was a great teacher. She made history fun and exciting. I actually had her for my 7th grade Texas history course. There was one key lesson that particularly sticks in my mind. She turned off all the lights and played the trumpet solo, Deguello, that the Mexican army played the morning before they stormed the Alamo. She wanted us to imagine what it was like to be there. It was chilling and memorable.
My mother didn’t teach because she couldn’t do anything else. She loved history, and she loved talking about it and teaching it. She was intelligent and creative in the way that she presented the material, along with maintaining her classroom discipline and all the other trappings of being a teacher.
When I went to college, my mother specifically told me that she wouldn’t pay for school if I majored in education. She knew education was a rough career path and, as any mother, she felt that I had the potential for “greater things”. My senior year when I graduated with a degree in biomedical science and was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I had an elementary education roommate who told me about a job fair she was going to. It was a teacher job fair, and I realized that the school districts there were desperate for science teachers. They offered me jobs on emergency certification and I decided to try teaching. My mother was not thrilled. I don’t remember saying this, but much later when I discussed leaving education, due to frustration with the low pay and respect, she reminded me that I had told her, “Don’t students deserve to have a teacher that knows their subject and is a good teacher? It’s not all about the money.”
After my first year she sent me flowers with a note that said, “The first year is the hardest, it gets better.” I was emotionally drained, but I decided to stay for another year. Fifteen years later, I can’t say I haven’t questioned, at times, why I stay in education. Different years present different challenges, but I always go back to that original core idea of why I became a teacher in the first place, “Don’t students deserve to have a teacher that knows their subject and is a good teacher?”
They may not appreciate their education now, but maybe they’ll appreciate it in the future. Just like our mothers- we didn’t appreciate them growing up as we do now with children of our own. Happy Mother’s Day!