Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Teacher's Legacy


Never taken the time to look it up, but the definition run something along the lines of “that which we leave behind".

And that's why I've always admired people who work with their hands. Whether it's a fireplace, a stack of insurance policies, or an automobile now in running condition, at the end of the day these people have something tangible to show for their efforts. They've created something that will last for months, possibly years.

But when the 3:30 bell rings, a teacher sits in an empty classroom, alone but for the stacks of ungraded essays and exams. Despite the goals, objectives and daily expectations imposed by supervisors, there remains a question. Did anybody learn something of value? Was anything taught that day that might make a difference in the lives of the 150 students who passed through the classroom doors?

As I think about Mrs. Marianne Frazier, I know the answer to these questions is “yes,” and monuments of difference survive in the lives of both students and colleagues. A great teacher makes changes that are immeasurable, incalculable, and indestructible--memories that will survive and affect generations to come.

In the 25 years I knew Mrs. Frazier, she never cursed, was never in a bad mood, and never, EVER raised her voice.

Except once.

Years before campus supervisors roamed high school campuses in golf carts, Marianne was assigned to watch the quad during the lunch hour. And she arrived on time. I know because I had taken the risk of excusing my 4th period class 15 minutes early to set up for a chess tournament.

And it was a beautiful day… .

Until the peace of our sunny afternoon was interrupted by yet another student fight.

Not the usual hair-pulling, obscenity screaming fracas of a girl fight, nor a prissy push-shove please-stop-us boy fight. This was two fully developed males, varsity football types, throwing the kind of punches that caused damage every time they landed.

Jogging in their direction, I saw the less lucky of the two combatants receive a quick succession of blows. He rocked back in a stupor. Obviously, his body lacked the good sense to fall down.

His opponent, however, did not understand he had already won the fight, and grabbed the other student by the hair. He started to pound the head of his opponent into a nearby concrete bench.

Then Mrs. Marianne Frazier arrived and vigorously tapped him on the back. Her words, “Stop that!” were spoken with so much volume and authority that they echoed across the quad.

The student stopped, hesitating just long enough for Mrs. Frazier to do something I would have never considered--she inserted herself between the victim and his prey. I was close enough to see his eyes, so far gone with rage that he saw nothing resembling a teacher in front of him, just an impediment, a small tree that needed to be uprooted and discarded.

His shoulder stiffened, and an arm pulled back while forming a fist. Suddenly, I felt sorry for Mrs. Frazier. It was sad that the only other adult--and only hope for help--happened to be nerdy young English teacher.

But Mrs. Frazier locked eyes with the fight-crazy student and shouted words that still astound me to this day: “Go ahead. Hit an old lady English teacher. I dare you! Just think what your friends will think about that."

In the next few milliseconds, I resigned myself to a course of action that would be both ineffectual and embarrassing. Personal injury and failure were certain, but I did not want to be the one who let Mrs. Frazier down.

Then a fist (and the high school student connected to it) paused in its all to predictable arc. Hormones and temporarily insanity had taken their toll, but I knew the owner of this fist to be a good kid and was acquainted with his father, a high school principal. The warrior gradually became a student again. He looked at the mob of fifty or so bodies, and I watched as his eyes regained and his face expressed some of his surroundings. Then shoulders eased and his fist gradually relaxed.

The fight was over. I escorted the semi-conscious victim to the nurse’s office. Mrs. Frazier saw the victor to the dean’s office.

At the end of that day, I doubt that anybody thanked Mrs. Frazier. Certainly few people remember the events of that afternoon.

But there was one student hadn't required hospitalization and did not suffer irreversible brain damage.

And another student was spared an arrest for assault--possibly even manslaughter. His father probably never realized how close his son came to an early criminal record.

But a very grateful chess coach went home that afternoon, knowing he had likely been spared humiliation and whole lot of hurt.

All because a usually soft-spoken voice had been loud enough, in its bravery and insight, to alter events and change lives.

At end of the day, the legacy of a great teacher is a memory.

Marianne Frazier, 1943-2011

An email I received today:

Hey dad,

That’s really sad about Mrs. Frazier.

You know that painting I did, the one hanging in your living room? I actually made that in her class. She always pushed me to put more detail in my projects. I owe a lot to her, as far as art goes. Many of the things I learned, were applied in the college art courses I took. I wish I could have been there for her memorial.