When I last left you, my readers, my heart was deeply mired in the current political turmoil which plagues our nation, leading to my post on the influence of the great Edward Bates who resides permanently at Bellefontaine. And while the issues that haunted me when I wrote my last post still ring heavy in my ears, my devotion to news media on my satellite radio has recently turned my attention to another major issue that sits very close to my heart; the current teacher strike taking place in Los Angeles. I have been a teacher for thirteen years. I am very fortunate to work in a district that, I feel, supports me and values what I do. I receive support from parents and students. I am, in my view, one of the lucky ones. While I know that things could always be better, I know that my life as a teacher is drastically different from so many others, more often than not the ones who serve the most underserved populations and face the biggest challenges in the classroom.
There has never been a moment in my career that I didn’t pride myself on being a teacher. It’s a badge I wear with such honor. I have always felt as if teachers had this superpower, an ability to inspire students in a way that I only hoped I could one day. This is one of the reasons why it hurts me so terribly to hear people say, “Well, you could always teach if nothing else works out.” I see the comments on news articles when teachers go on strike or make their voices heard regarding their needs or treatment. Teachers DO often pay for the resources in their classroom. They DO work more than 40 hours a week and they DO face challenges that are unique to our profession. And yes, I understand we are NOT alone in that regard. Truly, I do. But here is the thing; (According to popular opinion) If teachers go on strike or voice our needs, we are selfish. We are neglecting the kids. We are supposed to do our job for the kids, not for ourselves. And while we DO work for the kids and love them dearly, we also are humans with bills to pay and children to feed and not enough hours in the day. Basically, my point is that, we matter too. We are an integral part of society, but often we teachers are left in the shadows.
Which brings me to a woman who I have always felt resides so overlooked at Bellefontaine, in literally in the shadow of the large marker of her father. Susan Blow grew up in a wealthy St. Louis family, her father Henry a predominant businessman. Their wealth was considerable enough to move outside of the city proper and to the outskirts of Carondelet to escape both disease and the destruction of the 1849 fire. Susan had more opportunities than many other girls of the time due to the wealth of her family. In fact, her father and his brothers had helped to pay for Dred Scott during his fight for freedom, having grown up with him as children (Fact: Dred Scott is buried next door in Calvary Cemetery). Susan was a well educated woman with many doors opened before her. She had the opportunity to travel with her father to Brazil during his time as an ambassador during the Civil War.
She then traveled to Germany where she learned of a new school system in which young children were educated in classrooms made for them, with an emphasis on moral and intellectual growth, self-care, physical education. Essentially, students learned through play and interaction with caring, loving adults. This was the kindergarten system. As the parent of a kindergarten student, I can attest that these people deserve way more credit than I’m sure they have ever been given. There is a reason I teach high school, and I’m reminded of that reason every day when I deal with just one six year old in my household.
Susan, upon returning to St. Louis from her travels established the first kindergarten system in the United States right in the heart of St. Louis. She was such a huge proponent of this program that she worked to continue and grow it, even up to just three weeks prior to her death. She wrote books about her classroom model, and by the time of her death over 50 schools in St. Louis had implemented kindergarten classrooms, setting children on a path to success that continues even into today. My son in his kindergarten classroom learns about character words alongside math and reading skills. He learns how to manage his body, work with others and think outside the box. All of this began with Susan Blow.
Now, one would imagine the type of marker that a woman with this type of significance would have. I envision a beautiful lady, surrounded by small children as she reads them a book and they smile lovingly up at her as elementary students are prone to do (for the record, this stops at middle school). But much to my continued disappointment, Susan, who was so devoted to her career that she died unmarried, a ‘spinster’, rests with a small, inconsequential marker, so small one could almost trip over it in the shadow of the marker of Henry Blow, her father.
I can’t help but believe that this is another tragic example of how the marker doesn’t always make the man, or in this case, the woman. Susan’s marker is, in my view, a sad representation of how education has continued to be viewed.
We celebrate the achievements of the students and the system that made them, but too often forget to celebrate those who will willingly sit in the shadows for the sake of celebrating others. I can’t help but think that Susan would be right there with the teachers in L.A. today, urging them on to do better for education. I could be wrong. She probably would have focused on the students, as we often do, above ourselves. But we can not stay in the shadows, teachers. We have to put ourselves out there so that students can see this most noble of professions as the wonderful opportunity it is. That we do, is truly of the gravest importance.