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Reflecting on What Teachers Mean to Us for Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher and student
Photo credit: Washington State House Republicans

Writers often show appreciation for their teachers in eclectic ways. For Teacher Appreciation Week (May 8-12), we have two short encomia from master teacher Bill Ayers for his favorite teachers, and one very short one from the ever outspoken Marianne Leone about her teachers.

If you can do a one line appreciation for a teacher who’s meant a lot to you, (positive or not so much) we invite you to add it in the comments section.


From Bill Ayers

William John Thomas Mitchell—a.k.a. W.J.T. Mitchell—is the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, renowned editor of Critical Inquiry, and widely recognized as a leading force in visual theory. Tom is an intrepid risk-taker. He brings fresh enthusiasms and an active curiosity to every class and to each encounter. Never routine, never on auto-pilot—each experience becomes in his gaze a happening all its own. His classes are unpredictable, often wild, because his rules for teaching include taking nothing for granted, and refusing to answer any question or problem on its own terms. His students come to him as question marks and exclamation points, but he refuses, steadfastly, to hammer them into dull and boring periods by the end of the term. Instead, each one emerges from Tom’s classes somehow transformed—now a neon question mark, or as an exploding exclamation point.

Hal Adams was a quiet, modest man who taught literacy—mostly to adults—in the unruly cracks of our fractured and far-flung society. His relentless pursuit of an effective teaching practice that would allow his students to become more purposeful and more powerful in their projects and pursuits has had an impact on generations of teachers, from the elementary grades through graduate school, and from kindergarten to adult education. Hal was a staunch supporter of complication, a strong enemy of the simple fix or the idea that what brings forth positive action in one setting will do the same in others. He believed in perpetual uncertainty and constant learning, tolerance for confusion, improvisation and experimentation, spontaneity, particularity and the inevitable flux that accompanies social learning. Hal Adams was a consistent moral guide to his students and a mentor to many of his colleagues, including me. 

From Marianne Leone

Sister Andre’s front-teeth had a space between them that was mesmerizing. Her stare could melt steel and she suffered from a Captain Queeg-like dissatisfaction with disorder. At least three times a day her face would freeze into a rictus of pained disbelief and she would shout, “The desks are out of alignment!” That was our cue to leap up and make sure our desks formed a straight line that she could check with a ruler. Sister Andre’s demented beaver face would then finally relax into her normal mask of rage.