By Dr. Victoria Fitzgerald – How do ever fully repay someone who saves your life not once—but thousands of times? Or gives you the gift of sight, strength, speech and communication, or a fulfilling passion for your life?
Perhaps the only repayment (and one these individuals may never directly or fully know) is thankful remembrance. Those gifts were bestowed upon me as a young woman (age 13-17) by a group of incredible teachers at Stephen Decatur High School–an urban school with a diverse student population of over 2000. These individuals— skilled as educators and joyful in their chosen disciplines—have blessed me to this very day (over 40 years later)!
My life saver was Mr. Root—a driver’s education teacher. His excellent driving instruction—especially his admonition to “never trust the car mirrors” (avoiding vehicle blind spots) has saved my life (literally!) thousands of times. I always say a little prayer of thanksgiving for his diligence and patience with me and the countless other young drivers in his care.
The giver of sight and strength was Miss Bleaks—my art teacher. She challenged me to not only use my physical eyes but also the “eyes of my mind” to think broadly about all the amazing sights around me that could be inspiration points for creative thoughts and outcomes. She challenged me to strengthen my mind by learning the vocabulary and history of art, so that I could view and discuss creative works supported by this deeper knowledge. She also taught me and other students that there is freedom in the arts that is honed by the discipline of practice (weekly sketch books were always due on Friday!) and by her own example of continuing her life as an artist through her painting and jewelry making. Whenever I contemplate beautiful art works in museums, find joy and outlet in drawing and creative arts that I still do today—her gifts continue to enrich my life.
Two individuals that set my voice free (in written and spoken communication) were Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Schaefer.
Mrs. Baker, who taught Latin, was a mentor to me and those who stayed with her for four years. She began by assessing our abilities and weaknesses in English and then layered the new skills of the Latin language onto this strengthened foundation of grammar and structure. I’m still benefitting today from that solid foundation in writing and language study that she crafted.
Mrs. Schaefer (speech and drama teacher) was also a very skilled instructor that had a passion for her discipline that inspired students. Despite her petite size (barely five feet) she could command a room with her voice or a glance that made her seem like a giant. She encouraged me and many others to pursue theatre academically and professionally –wonderfully equipped with confidence and poise in performance and public speaking gained through her classes and play productions. She also nurtured my goal of becoming a secondary teacher when she allowed me to come back to her classes after high-school graduation and do my pre-service field observations. Her support, enthusiasm, and faith in me helped me attain many fulfilling years as a speech and drama instructor.
This passion for life and teaching in their chosen disciplines is the common thread that emerges as I reflect on the life-giving impact of my high-school teachers. They’ve continued to bless me with the gifts of sight, strength, voice, and passion for life. And as I drive home at the end of this day, I’ll say a prayer of thanksgiving for Mr. Root saving my life (again) as I remember “not to trust my mirrors” in traffic!
Vicki Fitzgerald is currently Assistant Dean for College Operations in the College of Education at Marquette University. She continues to pursue her love of teaching, education, and the creative arts in the Milwaukee area. To learn more about how she’s applied the gifts from her high-school mentors, follow this link: http://www.marquette.edu/education/faculty_staff/Fitzgerald.shtml .