May 3rd is apparently “National Teacher Appreciation Day” (and also May 1-7 is National Teacher Appreciation Week). That may not seem particularly newsworthy, as every single day of the year has been proclaimed, designated, or sanctioned to be one or more particular days of something or other. I’m taking advantage of this particular designated event to finally post about a favorite teacher of mine from 8th grade in what was then known as Junior High School.
Having had many teachers in my life, both in school and out, (my father was a teacher for many years in local public schools before retiring, as was my mother-in-law, and now many of my friends from school have become teachers and professors as well. My daughter even works as one for pre-K children. So I have many “favorite” teachers and even narrowing them down to the ones I felt challenged and supported by in my own days as a student would be a difficult task, as there have been many more that I liked than disliked, thankfully. (Though the ones I disliked, I really disliked.)
Lynn Herrick was our Language Arts teacher at Rugby Junior High School in the late 70s. She had a creative “art teacher” type of approach to learning that culminated in many fun and non-traditional assignments. I still remember the excitement of being able to tape a “commercial” for a product that we had to come up with. This was very early in the days of video tape equipment and probably the first time I was ever recorded on this new medium. We only watched the segments we shot once, in class, but how I would love to have a copy of those commercials, just to see my fellow classmates and I hamming it up at that age. Uploading those to Facebook to embarrass countless incipient senior citizens would be a hoot. Now that’s making learning fun!
Ms. Herrick crossed my mind when I came upon a stash of my old school papers kept in an old steamer trunk, along with other school items. The kind of stash that only a pack rat/hoarder who hasn’t had to move from place to place in over three decades would still inexplicably have in his possession past age 50. Still, I wasn’t sure why these old Language Arts assignment sheets were here, even irrational hoarding has some rationality. Then I saw that on the back of each one I had doodled various superhero and fantasy characters in poses and action scenes. I had made up several of my own characters in my youth for my own “comics” and I suppose I was sitting bored with the finished paper face down on my desk one day and the potential of all that white space beckoned me to sketch something there.
The interesting thing (and I’m sure you’re glad I’m finally getting to the interesting thing about this longwinded post) was that, rather than getting reprimanded by the teacher for defacing the assignment sheet, Ms. Herrick included her own note about the artwork, along with the grade, when reviewing the papers. Always an encouraging one. Thereafter, the addition of artwork to the backs of all my classroom work became a frequent tradition and a enjoyable addition to the daily grind of 8th grade.
A Language Arts teacher who encourages creativity and expression isn’t that far a leap in credulity, I suppose, as it would be a for, say, a math or gym teacher maybe, if I may stereotype for a bit. However, any teacher with a sense of humor was always a treasure for me as a student, and one who appreciated my dumb superhero drawings was even better. The back and forth of my post-assignment drawings, her notes, and my drawn responses to those notes was a fun kind of correspondence between just the two of us. She even asked to keep the one I drew of her, but since I still have it, I guess she didn’t get to. The ones I found are scanned in below, click to enlarge them.
I would gladly send the requested drawing, and since I was curious what became of her, I looked her up on the internet and found she is now an artist in her own right and probably doesn’t need an 8th grade quality portrait on the back of a mimeographed word exercise sheet from 1978.
Since reading of her shows and works in articles in papers and magazines, and remembering how she had moved on from teaching to theater and other arts, I now understand why she felt a need to encourage a young visual artist more than maybe a less appreciative English teacher would. She was an artist herself, and since leaving education for her own art career, it must have been her true calling. The same as it must have been for me at the time (working as an eighth grader paid terribly, and I knew I had to move on to the only slightly-better-paying profession of cartooning and illustration).
Even though, she probably doesn’t remember it, her brief stint as a teacher had profound and lasting effects on me, and probably many other students and I want to take this designated opportunity to thank and appreciate Ms. Lynn Herrick once and for all.
If you still want it, I can send you the work sheet as well, Ms. H.