Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - November 03, 2017

Affecting eternity

After 35 years as a professor, I sometimes wonder what impact, if any, I’ve had on my students. In-course evaluations provide a glimpse. One from my spring 2013 News and Feature Writing class said: “I learned so much in this class. The amount of experiences I gained as well have been so valuable. This has been my favorite class and professor at K-State and further encouraged me [in] what I want to do. I thoroughly enjoyed it and took a lot from the many people we met.”

I’ll put that one in the plus column!

Another from the same class said: “This class blows.”

I’m assuming that was not a compliment.

Still, as a teacher, I am more interested in long-term effects.

In 2011, I wrote a column called "The quiet student in the back row." It was a personal perspective, prompted by reflecting on teachers who changed my life. These thoughts returned recently when I received an email from a student of Mom’s from the 1940s. She taught 31 years in several different elementary schools.

... I’m Virgil Graves and your mother was my teacher for my first and second grade. I loved her and I didn’t get into too much trouble with her. I did write “Miss Mostrom + Edgar ” on the sidewalk when we found out they were getting married and I may have heard about that.

Your mother did one of the best things that I have never forgot. She introduced us (at least me) to some beautiful classical music and that was wonderful. “Peter and the Wolf'” was the very best music I heard. There were other records we also heard and I remember she let me crank the device to play the records. In the environment that I grew up it was awesome. Growing up Mennonite was not a nurturing experience for me. I would get in trouble listening to the Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays as I grew older ...

Your mother and Walter Lohrentz were the two teachers I had at Burns that gave me the motivation I needed for my future. I eventually graduated from KSU with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics ...

I thanked Virgil for sharing his feelings about Mom and asked about his email user-name of Van Gogh.

“I enjoy art and became interested in Van Gogh during college, he responded. “I was able to see some of his art on a business trip to Paris. Perhaps his eccentricities appeal to me. It’s sad that he was such a tortured individual.”

Virgil saw Mom in 2006 when he was in Burns for his 50th high school reunion. He sent me several pictures I had taken of him and Mom together.

The photos are special to me. She had a nice sense of humor when I presented my report card and told her I was disappointed with a grade she gave me in Arithmetic in one of the marking periods during 2nd grade. I handed her the report card and she said, “What is the problem?” It’s the only A- I received in two years. She smiled.

She definitely knew I lacked musical talent because she mostly gave me C’s.

Virgil’s comments made me think again about some of my own teachers. Mom was also my third grade teacher and I loved the many interesting displays she had around our classroom.

One of my sixth grade teachers told me, “You have the sweetest, most endearing smile.” I’m not quite sure why that stuck with me, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I was an awkward pre-teen and her comment made me feel a bit more confident.

Husband Art has told me many times how much he hated school when he was young. He loved science, but there wasn’t much of that in elementary school. So once he could read, he saw the rest of school as largely worthless. As a result, he dropped well behind in many subjects.

But he said his fourth grade teacher changed things - at least partly.

Mrs. Bauerfeind knew I was interested in electronics. She cautioned me that if I wanted to do anything in that area, I would need to know math. That was enough for me to see the connection. That night, I walked home practicing my multiplication tables.

By the end of the sixth grade, I was way ahead of the rest of the class in math and reading ... but still way behind in everything else!

Last month, Art received an e-mail from one of his former students, who is now 52; “I really liked KSU and especially the ET program. That was primarily because of you and Bill. Thanks again.”

Art said that it was nice to hear that compliment, but Eric was always an excellent student and probably would have done well without their influence. But he often thinks about a seminar on teaching he attended where the speaker pointed out that if in a teacher's career, his or her influence made the difference in keeping just one student from ending up in prison, the teacher's salary was more than paid for.

Daughter Katie said her third grade teacher really pushed her love of reading, and her fifth grade teacher let her do advanced math and had her tested for the gifted program. She said the school librarian was “so fun and sweet, while also teaching us a lot about how to find books, learn about sources, and help us with any questions we may have had.”

Katie’s grade school, high school and college music teachers inspired her to pursue music and she now teaches music in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Virgil was in Mom’s class more than 70 years ago and had a long career working for NCR, finishing as a software engineer. His email made me reflect on the column from six years ago. It began with the words of Henry Brooks Adams, a journalist, historian, novelist and educator. Paraphrasing his words: “A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops.” Brook's thought is as true today as when he shared it more than a century ago.

Left: Mom with her 1944-1945 elementary school classes. Virgil is in the front row to the right of the boy with his arm in a sling; right: Mom and Virgil at the 2006 reunion looking at his report cards. Perhaps he was asking if she would change that A-.

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