Wednesday, April 18, 2007

mrs gregory

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.

me and marian gregory

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."


Scrivener said...

This is such a fabulous, fabulous post. Thank you for it.

Last year, in the middle of a parent-teacher conference with my daughters' preschool teacher, I totally had this moment where I said to her: "You and I are teaching the exact same lessons."

The Sheck said...

I can't remember when I remembered first grade so vividly and fondly as when reading this post. Thank you. I also really appreciate the seeking out of our teachers and thanking them and realizing the profound effect they had on us in becoming who we are today. Awesome, awesome, awesome

sandy said...

What an awesome post! Not only did Mrs. Gregory do all the things you listed, but she also played the piano and taught all of her first graders to sing the alphabet ... *backwards* as well as frontwards. How lucky San Luis Obispo is to have a teacher who doesn't know the definition of "retirement."

jini said...

david, this is wonderful. it made me wish all students could take the opportunity to speak with those teachers who particularly influenced them in their early learning years. you expressed yourself so well! how lovely to be able to share your own teaching experiences with this special person. i suspect that in years to come, you will be treated to dinners by some who say, "because i owe you."

david silver said...

thanks, all, for the comments!

scriv - i love it. we've got a lot in common.

sheck - thanks! i've been thinking a lot about first grade lately - because of marian gregory but also because so many of my nephews are reaching that age. it's sort of a magical grade level, eh?

mom - you commented on my blahg! i forgot the piano playing but will never forget the backwards alphabet. also: marian said that they next time she visits she wants to roadtrip to santa cruz so we can all meetup. fun.

and jini - ooh, future free dinners, yes. and i agree - maybe all of us should try to locate and meetup with our teachers: past and present.

Savan said...

Ah, I love teachers.

Marian said...

How delightful to read this message, David. I had a wonderful time with you last week. Hooray for students! You were an outstanding first grader and have become a successful, caring, and compassionate adult. I'm serious about Santa Cruz.