By: Dennis Bates
First, you have to understand that my mother was born to be a teacher. Even before she had a teaching license, she taught in country school. You could do that in rural areas back then. I remember watching her study when she went back to finish her college degree so she could teach in a city school system. And I can remember all the years she taught in the local school system before she retired. Even after she retired she went back to local classrooms and read to children.
Lots of men and women have done that. But I wonder how many made up games when their families took summer vacations, so they could each them new words, how to read, multiplication and long division. My mother did. When we took summer vacations, we drove; we never flew. And in those days there weren’t a lot of interstate or even four lane highways. There were narrow, two-lane roads that went through the heart of every city and every small town in between the cities. Travel took a long time then, so three kids crammed in the back seat of a car that had no air conditioning needed to be distracted. Obviously the DVD player hadn’t been developed yet, so there were no movies or cartoons to numb us into a quiet stupor.
So my mother used the time to teach us, even though she tricked us by calling our vacation activities games. We loved every minute of it because we thought we were playing; we didn’t realize we were learning. One of the games we played involved memorizing short poems and reciting them back. When we were smaller, we memorized nursery rhymes and I can still recite most of them even though I am 62. Believe me, if you want to have fun at your next adult party, start reciting Little Boy Blue or Humpty Dumpty for no particular reason and see how fast people move to the other side of the room. I dare you.
When we got older, we memorized short poems, and I can still recite a lot of those to this day also. There is something about memorizing that commits the words to the hard drive of your soul. Unfortunately, educators have overlooked the value of memorizing as a legitimate teaching tool in many of our schools.
When my mother realized she was terminally ill, she sat with my brother, my sister and me and told us exactly how she wanted her funeral to be. She even made notes like she was writing out a lesson plan for a substitute teacher. For one thing, she wanted us to sing “Joy to the World.” Even though it is a Christmas carol, she insisted that it was how we should feel when she died, and besides it was one of her favorite songs. She also wanted someone to read one of the poems I remember learning on those summer vacations.
It isn’t the greatest poem that was ever written, but its simple message is profound in a way, and it shows that to the very end, she was a teacher. I never learned who wrote it. My mother wrote on the top line of the page: The Poem I’ve Tried to Live By.
The rest follows:
A Little Fellow Follows Me
A careful person I ought to be;
A little person follows me.
I do not dare to go astray
For fear he’ll go the self same way.
Not once can I escape his eyes;
What’er he sees me do he tries,
Like me he says he’s going to be-
The little chap who follows me
He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine;
The base in me he must not see,
The little chap who follows me.
I must remember as I go
Through summer rain and winter snow;
I’m building for the years to be
That little chap who follows me.
When I look back upon life’s way
What joy ‘twill be if I can say,
I’ve led him in a path I’ve trod,
A way that leads to Heaven and God.
We are all born to be teachers, like my mother was; the question is, what will we teach?