by the Ven. Mimsy Jones
As another school year gets underway, I am remembering teachers who formed as well as informed me, beginning with my eleventh grade English teacher whose name was Miss McGing but was known to us students as the Holy Terror.
Short and stocky, with the zeal of a prize-fighter, Miss McGing taught English with a fiery passion. Pacing back and forth in front of the blackboard, she fairly shouted, “Read! Mark! Learn! and Inwardly Digest your assignments!”
(Only later did I realize those words were from the Collect for the Sunday closest to November 16, BCP p 236.)
Her temper in the classroom was legendary. When students did not ‘get’ a poem or a short story no matter how hard she tried to draw it out of them, she got so frustrated with them, or with herself, or both, that she threw her eraser, hard, at the blackboard and ended up with chalk dust all over her. I actually saw her do that one day and understood why she was called the Holy Terror.
The first paper I turned in for her class was a book report on our summer reading. Mine began, “I liked the book The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens very much.” Right after that sentence, she had written in bright red ink: “WHY? did you like it? Do not leave a reader hanging like that. Explain yourself!”
She gave me a B minus on that book review, which turned out to be a pretty good grade from Miss McGing, but in the long run, the lessons I learned from Miss McGing were not about grades, and what I remember her for were not temper tantrums.
Miss McGing taught me that if we want to understand, and be understood, it is important to read carefully, to look up definitions of new words, and to write as clearly as we can.
In his book, The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer writes, “Good teaching comes in myriad forms, but good teachers share one trait: they are truly present in the classroom, deeply engaged with their students and their subject.”
That describes Miss McGing to a ’t’ but there are others:
Professor Jake Wheeler, my college political science professor, taught with such gusto, such expertise about the subject, and with such side-tickling humor that I ended up majoring in history and political science and have had a life-long fascination with both subjects.
The day of our final exam sophomore year, Mr. Wheeler brought each of us a box of Animal Crackers (remember those bright red boxes festooned with wild animals?). I was an enthusiastic Republican (I Like Ike) back then, and although Mr. Wheeler never told us, we all knew he was a Democrat, so I carefully extracted the elephant (Republican symbol) cookie, wrapped it in a page of the exam book, and wrote, “I cannot bite the hand that feeds me.” He laughed out loud when he saw it, and promptly ate the cookie.
Here in Memphis, there is a Bible scholar named Mitzi Minor who brings Scripture alive with such vibrancy and passion that every time she teaches – anywhere – there is standing room only. And with very good reason. She is a local treasure, as many of you know, and we have been blessed by her teaching throughout our diocese and right here at Calvary through the years.
“Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire,” wrote William Butler Yeats. Prayers of praise and thanksgiving for all those teachers who have been lighting fires for generations, and for all the teachers to come.