Press-Republican

Columns

September 29, 2013

Teachers can make a real difference

It’s time for a reprise on teachers. Is there a pair of eyes reading this behind which is a brain that cannot recall a favorite classroom mentor from years gone by?

Take a pen or pencil, and slowly write that name while recalling the face of that teacher. You have just paid a tiny tribute to someone who made a real difference in your life. 

For me, it was Agnes Labarge. For Kaye, it was Mrs. Finnegan, who taught second grade at the Broadway School in Saranac Lake. 

“She was a sweetheart and a lovely lady,” Kaye recalls. “She was a gentle soul and never raised her voice. I had some not-so-pleasant experiences with teachers who left scars on my young mind, but Mrs. Finnegan made up for all of them.”

Labarge did that for me in the tiny St. Lawrence County community of Massena Center. I have often spoken and written her name with great love and admiration. I was a rough-cut country boy and, rather than scold me in front of the classroom, she would take me to one side and speak softly. She never pointed to my transgressions, but focused on my strengths. She enforced my passion for reading by placing a paper pocket bearing my name, onto the wall by my desk. She suggested books I might enjoy and urged me to write (in cursive) a paragraph about my reaction to each story and place it in the pocket. It was a pleasant challenge, and the pocket was packed full by the end of fifth grade. 

She never forced me into compliance that I can recall. I would have been the quintessential square peg in a round hole. She acknowledged that I always thought outside the box and told me that was something to cultivate. She allowed me to listen to all the older students while they sat on the front “recitation bench” for their lessons. I learned many sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade subjects along the way and enhanced my appetite for learning. 

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