We had a great school library that you could read on the couch if you got your work done early and a great school librarian who was always on hand with book recommendations. We also had white rats in the classroom that probably came to us from college science labs and large gallon jars that we used to grow mealworms. But fourth grade was without question the best, because in fourth grade, as I said, I had the perfect teacher.
Miriam Marecek found me a few decades later; She read something I had published and called me. I know what I said when she asked if I remember her because I wrote a story about it back then: “Miss Marecek! The reading candle! ‘A Wrinkle in Time!’ “As I said, she had a good eye for a future classic.
Miriam Marecek was born in Prague during World War II. She later wrote about her childhood in a memoir, “Escape From Prague”. Her mother was a debutante and opera singer and later a teacher, and her father, she wrote, was a “journalist, scholar and diplomat” who was in danger as a dissident. In 1948, the US ambassador helped the family get to the US.
When I was in fourth grade, I don’t think I understood that teachers had a history or that they would lead complicated and individual lives after I moved on to the next grade. It wasn’t until decades later – after that call – that I found out that Miss Marecek had attended graduate school, had become a professor of education and that children’s literature was still her great love and specialty.
Of course, I didn’t know how lucky I was to have a teacher who could choose such amazing books and turn reading aloud into ceremony, ritual, and compelling drama, and I didn’t know that I would grow up to find my cause in paediatrics in collaboration with Reach Out and Read, a national literacy organization, through which doctors talk to parents about the importance of reading during preventive examinations and provide them with books. When I reconnected with this teacher, she became an early member of the advisory board and helped select the books.
I want to draw a moral here about teachers and how young children absorb what their teachers have to offer with a kind of factual greed, without stopping to be amazed at what is transmitted, to wonder how the knowledge was acquired or to examine the teacher’s own passions.
And given the times we are living in, I want to say something in recognition to all teachers who manage to convey their passions from afar this year, and perhaps mourn the days when children are in what has been exciting would be missed or even magical classrooms. But really, all I want to say is if you’re lucky with a teacher, you’re really lucky.