When lessons aren’t about reading & writing

When I was in college, I took a magazine writing class and on my last paper – the assignment was to write an in-depth magazine article – my teacher wrote on the back page: You have wasted my time this semester with your writing.             

So yes, if I could meet him now, that would be fun.

But at the time, the words knocked me over. I started to question my major, which was journalism. I started thinking that all those people who told me I could write were wrong. I told myself maybe this one guy knew the truth and I never should have thought about getting a journalism degree. I even talked with my parents about changing my major. I was a Junior, so they suggested I stick with it.

The impact a teacher can have on a student is really remarkable. Lucky for me, this was the first time I had a painfully negative experience. In fact, I often attribute my career to 2 teachers I had in high school: Miss Gallagher and Miss Gaasche. 

I had Miss Gaasche for English twice, as a Freshman and Senior. She instilled in me the importance of women being empowered, which is kind of crazy because I went to an all-girls Catholic High School, so feminism wasn’t a message we heard a lot. But for about 45 minutes a day, she worked it into every class. She taught me a woman wasn’t a “girl,” so when I was older, I shouldn’t let anyone call me that. And I didn’t, and that annoyed a lot of people, mostly men. She taught me it was ok to want a family and a career even if, at that time, I couldn’t imagine how that could happen. And she taught me that a teacher can love her students, really care for them, and more than anything, want them to go out and conquer the world, especially as empowered women.

Miss Gallagher died several years ago. She lived in Cherry Hill and had become a principal in the Runnemede school district. Over the years, there were many times when I bumped into her somewhere – at the mall or a town’s festival. And every time, she would ask, “What are you writing?” I always had an answer, and her eyes would light up. Eventually, she started receiving SJ

Magazine where I had this monthly column. So every month, she could read what I was writing.

But all those times when I saw her, I never told her that whatever/wherever I was writing, it was because of her. I never told her she helped make me who I am. I went to her viewing and tried to tell some of her family members, but it wasn’t the same. I don’t think they could really understand the history. Only she and I could.

Later, when my girls went to school, I saw the impact again. Their second grade teacher, Mrs. Martino, stood at the doorway and hugged each student at dismissal. A third grade teacher, Mrs. Parry, called me in for a parent meeting because, “I see Klein’s whole little body tense up when she’s doing her schoolwork.” She was afraid Klein was developing the need to be perfect, because that could lead to terrible problems as a teen girl, so she had some suggestions to keep that from happening.

In high school, one teacher, Mrs. Bernard, somehow – and please let me stress somehow – made Maura enjoy math. A subject that, with other teachers, Maura despised. 

Not every teacher makes a life-changing impact. But wow, some can significantly influence who their students become. And I guess, some can significantly influence who their students don’t become, which is just awful. Somehow I didn’t let that college teacher change who I was, and who I eventually became. My past teachers and my parents kept me believing and trusting in what they had already taught me. I could write. It wasn’t a waste of time. Some teachers matter, and some don’t.

Quite a lesson.


Follow @mariannealeardi on Instagram


Read more “Wide Awake” by Marianne Aleardi

June 2024
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