When I start up my University of St. Thomas teacher-ed classes
each term, I tell the students stories about great teachers and inspired
teaching, gleaned from my growing number of years in education.
Here's one of them:
school kids in St. Paul back when I was at Saturn School in the early 90's.
She was celebrating 25 years as a teacher in the district and was so
being honored with a District Longevity pin. The district made a video
interview of her to be shown at the Opening Day convocation that year.
It was the hit of the morning. It wasn't the welcoming words of the
Superintendent that day that re-stoked the fire in the hearts of the
returning teachers. It was Lieselotte's story:
audience: After raising her family, she decided to become a German
teacher. Why not, she said, my German was still perfect.
She found a job in St. Paul teaching middle school kids. Why there? Why not highschool?, she was asked.
"Because they are old enough to love to learn,"
she said, "but not so old they think they know everything. They are
fun, they are helpers, they are full of life." They loved the subject
she taught and would converse with her in their broken German even in
the halls, traipsing to the next class. They loved her.
She was an itinerant teacher whose desk was a shopping cart and she
had to haul all her tools from one room to another. The kids argued to
see whose turn it was to push the cart for her. Since she was an older
teacher who came to education later in life, the interviewer asked her
how did she find the energy for such a demanding job."I pace myself,"
she said, "and I let the students teach one another. I do not say very
much in my classes. My students know what to do. But I am tired at the
end of the day," she said, "and when I go home I put my feet up and
drink two cups of my very strong coffee. It refreshes me enough to
correct my papers and prepare for tomorrow."
When will you retire, she was asked. "Oh, I cannot yet
retire," she said, in her lovely German accent, "for I do not yet have
it perfect." That line resonated in the large auditorium where we are
all seated. I do not yet have it perfect. There was nary a stir after
we heard it.
I'm sure that many of the teachers there thought she was closer to
perfect than she knew. She was committed to her craft and her kids, to
the start of this new year of teaching which afforded her and everyone
there another opportunity to do it better.
Mrs. Tschesche passed away this past year at the age of 96. She had touched many lives. That's what teachers do, and that's why we also call our profession a "practice."
I don't know for a fact, but I'd guess she taught until she could no longer teach, and then,
and only then, it was perfect.