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Bruce Watson: Teachers, you know we owe you, big time

Bruce Watson of Leverett has written a 50-page biography of satirist Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show", in an exclusively eBook format.

Bruce Watson of Leverett has written a 50-page biography of satirist Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show", in an exclusively eBook format. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

So as we celebrate the class of 2013, I celebrate the people who made my son’s graduation possible. Teachers.

Dorothy and Alison. Tracey and Bill. Joan and Ellen and Genie and the list goes on. Some are retired now but others will be in their classrooms this Monday morning, winding down another year of being the second most important adult in a child’s life.

And most will be back in the fall to do roughly the same thing they’ve done every year for x-squared years but to make it seem brand-new. And that, too, is tougher than coal mining. I know how hard it is, how hopeful, how heart-breaking.

I know because I tried.

But I also know because I had teachers who are still with me. The first-grade teacher who read with me on her own because I had gone beyond Dick and Jane. The third-grade teacher who dropped a full day’s class to let us listen to a Mercury launch while we made paper rockets. The fifth-grade teacher who took us under her wing when JFK was killed. The seventh-grade journalism teacher who encouraged my writing, and also happened to be my mother.

I lasted eight years in the mine. She stuck it out for 27.

Coal mining is a grinding job, but the mining — and the minding ... sorry, but my high school English teachers are groaning. I can still hear their advice: “Avoid excess words.” Take two.

Coal mining is rough but teachers have it rougher. The raw material they mine can be as stubborn as coal. Some is just as thick and all of it is explosive. Say the wrong thing — even once — and you’ll breed a lifetime of resentment. Say the right thing and you may have to say it a few dozen times before it penetrates the bituminous brain.

And then, like coal mining, teaching has its occupational hazards. Among these are: lunch duty, bland coffee, lesson plans, reducing fractions and “Beowulf.”

And yes, there are teachers in my head who (whom?) I’d like to evict, teachers who just showed up, droned on, drifted off, and drove home at 3 without a second thought. Though I still remember how to reduce fractions (fourth grade — Mr. Lombard) I won’t try to reduce the fraction of the teaching trade these negative numbers represent. I can only hope your children’s fraction of such teachers is < one-fourth (sixth grade — Miss Durland) or even approaching zero (senior year — Mr. Hillary.)

But bad teachers make the best sparkle like diamonds in the rough. And every good teacher leaves a legacy, not just students who learned to survive “Beowulf” but students who learned the value of learning. Those special connections are what keep teachers coming back despite all the lunch duty, lesson plans, parents and more parents. Special connections like the one my mother made with an eighth-grade girl, who is out there somewhere, who named her cat Mrs. Watson.

So congratulations class of 2013. Many of you will go on to college, others into the workplace, but wherever you go, you won’t be alone. You think you’ve escaped. You’re out! Done! FREE! Yet you carry inside you all those Bills and Joans, Ellens and Genies. You’ll want to evict some but others will stay in there forever. You’ll recognize them easily. They’re the ones who, day after day, year after year, went down in the mine.

Bruce Watson’s column appears twice a month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.

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