Throwback Thursday- Thanks Mrs. Shebesta: An appreciative ode to our teachers in the time of COVID-19

As we’re all panicking to put our stuff online and kids are now starting to grind out work at home, I thought this would be an appropriate post for Throwback Thursday.

Parents are now figuring out that teachers weren’t lying about their kids’ behavior at school. They also have figured out that it takes a lot of “staying on top of things” to make sure students get work done. Teachers are doing Herculean work to get everything figured out and make sure these students aren’t worse for wear when they move on to the next grade.

Also, students at the college level are now starting to understand that professors really do care about them and are willing to make tremendous personal sacrifices to make that happen.

I wrote this for teacher appreciation week a few years back, thanking a teacher that, without whom, I’d never be anywhere. I’m also quite certain I’d probably have fewer books written and at least two fewer carpal tunnel surgeries under my belt.

Hope it inspires you a bit as we all move forward in this mess.

Thanks, Mrs. Shebesta. (An ode to teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week.)

If you can read this, thank a teacher.

If you’re being forced to read this, blame Mrs. Shebesta.

Cheryl Shebesta taught typing at my high school, back when you learned how to type on top-of-the-line IBM Selectric typewriters that required you to use correction film when you made a mistake and pull out the “ball” of text when you wanted to change fonts. My freshman year, students were given an elective option for their schedule and my parents figured that, given my atrocious handwriting, typing might be beneficial to me.

(Yes, these things really existed, and they taught me to appreciate computers…)

I learned how to type by banging out pages of a’s and s’s and d’s and f’s on those old clunky machines as Mrs. Shebesta cranked up the latest Duran Duran songs, so we learned how to type in rhythm. When she would time us, I could bang out upwards of 55 words per minute without an error. I learned how to keep my eyes off my fingers, as looking at your hands was an unforgivable sin.

Over the years, I became like a lapsed Catholic of typing. Without Mrs. Shebesta’s watchful eye, I often would peek at my fingers or make more errors than I cared to. My speed lapsed a bit, as I was more often typing from my own thoughts than I was copying from a book page or a letter I needed to replicate. Still, without her, there is no way I’d be anywhere in life and I sure as heck wouldn’t be a journalist, a blogger, a teacher and an author. Typing is a skill I use every day and it’s one with which I could not live without.

I thought about the most influential teachers I ever had today because this is National Teacher Appreciation Week. I often refer to Steve Lorenzo, who taught my first journalism class in college and was a man whom I desperately wanted to impress. I also think back on people like Esther Thorson, who advised me throughout my doctorate and would constantly beat the heck out of my work for my own good. Many others provided me with “a moment” at a time I needed it to move forward and eventually get where I am today.

My mom taught grades 3 through 8 for 45 years at a school that often served the kids of factory workers, immigrants and the working poor. Teachers at other, richer schools often talked about their lavish Christmas or end-of-the-year gifts, while mom taught more than a few kids who wore the same clothes to school every day and at least one who slept on the couch of a drug house. Still, the times a student would stop by and thank her or provide her with a tiny token of appreciation meant the world to her. I still remember how she treasured a box of candy canes a young Hmong girl bought from a dollar store and gave to Mom for Christmas one year. It literally was the thought that counted and it counted a lot.

I know it can seem self-serving here to say, “Thank a teacher this week,” but the truth of the matter is that most of us do this job because we believe in it and we hope we helped you in some way. For the longest time, two of my diplomas were stuffed under my bed next to some old football cards and my doctoral “sheepskin” was stuck on a bookshelf under some old Sports Illustrateds. However, the thank you notes I got from students were pinned to my walls, covering every inch of wall I could give them.

This week, as our students are getting ready for the summer or to graduate, a number of them have stopped by to say goodbye. The kids I thought I had little more than a tangential affect on have told me how much the writing class they took with me helped them. The students who groused about me CONSTANTLY have said things like, “I really hated your grading, but you REALLY made me better at this.” You don’t have to turn in an Academy Award performance when you say “thanks.” Just be honest and let the teachers who mattered know they did so.

I honestly don’t know where Mrs. Shebesta is right now. Last I heard was Florida, but that might be wrong. However, as I type this up, I can still hear this song playing in my head, so I learned to type on rhythm, even though I literally have none of my own to speak of. Also, every time I make a mistake typing, I think back to that wretched correction film we had to use, thus spurring me on to think before I type (another maxim of Mrs. Shebesta).

So thanks, Mrs. Shebesta. I appreciate you more than you know. And so do all the teachers after you who could read my papers, thanks to your hard work with me in typing class.

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