The long-standing influence one human can have on another human’s life is sometimes difficult to put into words, even if you’re a writer. The best and most impactful stories, no matter what they are or who they’re about, are those that bring commonality to the human experience. Good stories tie us together and help us look forward in times of unimaginable strife—times like what we’re all experiencing right now.
The simple story I’m about to share might seem small and relatively insignificant given the current state of affairs, but it is about a person whose lasting impression helped shape my life, and it’s a story I think we can all relate to on some level. In times of complete insanity I often think about this person, and I’m reminded how important positive life lessons are—especially when they come from an amazing teacher.
For me, the teacher who made the biggest difference in my life was one whose classes I never actually had the privilege to attend at all. In fact, I never knew a single one of the hundreds of students she taught over the years, and I never heard her recite a single arithmetic lesson (as she preferred to call it). Yet, I knew her and her classroom well because spending time there at the end of each summer was an annual rite of passage for my sister and I. Now, some 35 years later, I can still describe Classroom 104 at St. Henry’s Catholic School in complete detail, because the teacher who occupied it was my grandmother, Marguerite Klinger—a proud, feisty, funny, no-nonsense woman who loved her students. (And, I know those students would remember her well if they heard her name today.)
This is my favorite photo of my grandparents, Marguerite and Lavern Klinger. My grandmother began her career as a teacher in 1937 at a one-room schoolhouse in Shields Township, Wisconsin at the age of 19.
My grandmother began her career as a teacher in 1937 at the Seibel School, a one-room schoolhouse in Shields Township, Wisconsin. Marguerite McHugh was 19 years old on the first day she stepped into that tiny room, and she hadn’t yet married my dashingly handsome and incredibly intelligent grandfather, Lavern.
It’s hard for me to imagine the young woman Marguerite was, but one fact is perfectly clear—she was a teacher long before she was a wife, mother of five, and grandmother of 10. She knew her purpose at 19 years old, and she never stopped believing in that purpose, ever. What I understand fully about my grandmother now, that I didn’t fully grasp as a child, is that she was always a teacher—even after she retired from St. Henry’s Catholic School in 1985 with a career that spanned almost 50 years and more than half her life. Her influence carried on within her own family as well, inspiring one of her sons and two of her grandchildren to also become teachers.
My grandmother taught 3rd grade in Room 104 at St. Henry’s Catholic School in Watertown, Wisconsin for over 28 years.
All those bright late-summer mornings when I helped my grandmother prepare her classroom for another year are truly my fondest memories of her. To this day I can still hear the sound of her scratching chalk as she wrote her name on the blackboard for the newest group of third graders whose laughter would fill up the room the following week. While she arranged her things, gently humming the entire time, I would be sifting through stacks of musty textbooks from the cabinet in the back, or carrying them from the classroom next door, and placing one on each desk, which were always neatly arranged to follow the lines on the checked-tile floor. My sister, whose handwriting was much neater than mine, would be writing name tags for each student and assigning desks by taping the tags to desktops, in alphabetical order, of course, as our grandmother preferred. When fellow teachers or nuns stopped by to welcome her back to school, my grandmother’s face always beamed and I can still hear her jolly laugh as she referred to us as “Jimmy’s girls” to her friends and colleagues.
My sister and I, who were pranksters at heart, never dared to dilly-dally from our duties in Mrs. Klinger’s classroom, especially if we expected the usual payment of McDonald’s lunch and back-to-school shopping during Maxwell Street Days when our work was through. As sweet and happy as she was on most occasions, our grandmother ran a tight-ship in her classroom and she did not appreciate deviation from tasks, even if it was from her second and third oldest granddaughters. On one occasion, though I don’t recall exactly what I did to garner her attention, my grandmother pointed at me and said, “You, young lady, are too smart for your own good.” I’m almost positive she was referring to my adolescent smart mouth, but now, as an adult, I look at those words as a compliment, simply because they came from her. I am the strong, educated, proud woman I am today largely because of her influence, and for that, I will always be grateful.
There have been many teachers in my life, both within school walls and out, who have left a lasting impression. However, when I hear the word “teacher,” I still, and will always, think of my grandmother first. A teacher is not only what she was, but it was who she was, and she positively shaped countless lives throughout her 75 years on this earth.
So, to wrap up this long-winded story and get to the point of how all of this relates to you—we all know, or have had teachers in our lives who’ve made a positive difference. And, most likely if you’re reading this blog, you are a teacher yourself. Like my grandmother, you are a champion, a hero, and a constant cheerleader for your students—students who, thanks to COVID-19, haven’t been able to sit in your classroom for far too long. But, I guarantee, as much as you remember and miss your students right now, make no mistake, if you are anything like Marguerite Klinger, your students most certainly remember and miss you, too. The future is blurry right now, but one thing is still perfectly clear—you will come together with your students again on another sunny September morning to relish in the joy and absolute privilege of a classroom education. A privilege that this generation of students (and parents alike) will most likely never take for granted again.
Thank you, teachers!
From ALL of us at Nasco Education (and from the depths of this little writer’s heart, as both a parent and proud granddaughter of an amazing educator)—THANK YOU for being a teacher. THANK YOU for your unwavering determination, your faith in education, and your belief in our children. THANK YOU for weathering the storm in these crazy, uncertain times.
You are appreciated now, more than ever, and you have our full support—always. It is our honor and absolute privilege to serve you in any way we can. Please, stay strong, stay safe, and stay healthy.