last week i had dinner with marian gregory. over three decades ago, marian gregory was mrs gregory, my first grade teacher at sinsheimer elementary school in san luis obispo, california. before that, mrs gregory taught first grade to my sisters cara, lisa, and nancy.
marian and i have the same calling - teacher - so we had a lot to talk about. she retired from the classroom a while back but she continues to teach through a project that helps fifth and sixth graders to make digital media about topics that interest them. we shared our thoughts on students - past and present. we talked about digital media. and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
when i was in the first grade, i never got the opportunity to ask my teacher her life history. at dinner, i asked! like sarah and her family, marian is from nebraska - her mother was born in blue springs, nebraska, in 1901. for a year or two, marian taught different grade levels but then discovered first grade and never left. in 1987, she was selected teacher of the year for the city (county?) of san luis obispo.
we talked a lot about reflection - the process of stopping to think, to be mindful. marian told me about an essay she wrote twenty years ago, in 1987, about her observations that students' abilities to reflect were in danger. we agreed, sadly, that these days - through overscheduled play-date kid culture, through horrific standardized testing, and through all-online-all-the-time technologies - things seem to be getting worse.
for me, the mindblowing part of the dinner was discovering that so called contemporary concepts like participatory media, project-based learning, and we/be the media were concepts i first learned in mrs gregory's first grade class. she'd sit on a chair and read us books. we'd sit on the rug and listen. the books were magical and filled with fascinating people, fascinating places, and fascinating things. these people, places, and things generated a hundred questions. then, when the book was finished, we would dash to our desks and rebuild these people, places, and things. we would use paper and crayans and glue and glitter and colored pipe cleaners. then we would bring our media home and give them to our parents. our parents would then post our media on the most popular channel of all: the refrigerator. during dinner, i realized that marian gregory and i teach the same lessons to our students: make media, be the media, we the media.
when it was time to pay, our instincts kicked in and we seized our wallets. "i'm paying," marian said, suggesting no retreat. "no," i said, "that is incorrect." upset, she asked, "why?" i grabbed the bill and said, "because i owe you."