Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He took the photo above of Shellsburg School (now Vinton-Shellsburg).
Teachers have earned appreciation for more than a week in May or during tragedies like school shootings or a pandemic. They really do train all other professions.
People who boast about pulling themselves up with their bootstraps have short memories. If I tried to pull myself up with my own bootstraps, they would have broken, and my boots would have remained firmly on the floor. No, in my tiny school in my tiny town, I had some dedicated motivators called teachers.
If you’re reading to find a biting editorial, skip to another Bleeding Heartland article. This is a love letter for my teachers.
I was an abysmal student in grade school. I didn’t like to read. Writing was a struggle. I despised math, and I had a speech impediment that sent me to a one-on-one speech teacher to try and conquer tongue twisters, like “Sammy snake slithered by the seashore.”
I wasn’t a troublemaker, but the notion that school was fun and necessary is now how I regard rock climbing. My disdain for the printed page landed me in remedial reading, but luckily with my former kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Cue. In her twilight teaching years, she shouldered the burden of teaching the remedial, like me.
She quickly introduced the Hardy Boys’ magic. Even though I did it word by word, I solved the mystery with my new pals Frank and Joe. Mrs. Cue didn’t worry I wasn’t reading classic literature. I was reading.
Frank and Joe kept me company all through junior high. I escaped remedial reading, but not the mysteries. Mrs. Cue kept me supplied. Mostly junior high was a swamp of hormones, pimples while trying not to crush on every girl I saw. But band was offered. We bought a secondhand cornet, and I slowly learned to play with volume being my forte.
High school was just a few stairs up from junior high, but a world away. By then there was a new band director, Mrs. Ashby. She cared more about accurate notes than sheer volume. She gave individual and group lessons. Somehow, she saw a trumpet player in a pudgy 9th grader, and I began to love band for the next four years.
Because of Mrs. Ashby, by the time I graduated, I competed in individual and group contests, played taps for military funerals, and later played in the college pep band surrounded by music major trumpet players who easily covered my mistakes.
I also joined choir. Ms. Rech was five feet nothing, but she had a big goal of having us sing in parts that didn’t start dogs howling. She found a voice. Because of Ms. Rech, I became an amateur wedding singer, crooning all the 1970s wedding hits.
Being in choir meant being a candidate for high school theater. Mr. Daleiden was an English teacher and play director. He was hippie too late.
Male teachers wore ties and sometimes even suits. Daleiden didn’t. He sometimes wore tie-dyed pants. He had shoulder-length red hair and a beard.
He was a shock to Shellsburg.
Instead of doing small plays that fit a small school, he chose big productions like Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, and plays that made you think like Our Town or The Lottery.
He even wrote an original play, which we started rehearsing without a final act written. That caused a lot of sweating as the performance date crept closer. He finished the play in time. Now, that I ponder, I think it was a lot like life. You start living it, not knowing what the final act holds.
Mr. Daleiden challenged our thinking and made us better.
A classroom has four walls with dreams inside. Thanks for making my dreams real, even when I didn’t know I had them.