Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ripples of People

I just learned on Saturday that my AP English teacher from high school has lost her long-fought battle with breast cancer. I had to hear about it from my sister, who's in Chicago, while I'm here about 50 miles away from my alma mater. 
The word "dedicated" didn't even scratch the surface with Carolyn Dowd. She was one of the hardest teachers my old high school will ever see... but she wasn't a tyrant. She didn't let the answers come easy. She was meticulous. She graded hard. Her red pen was like Raphael's brush on the Sistine Chapel, except not quite that pretty. The class discussions didn't end with simple answers. She kept pressing and pushing us beyond our usual yes's and no's. She pretty much forced us to dig deep, because she knew each one of us had the ability to think, to achieve, to doubt, to wonder.
My sister told me about the Facebook group a fellow high school alum set up dedicated to Mrs. Dowd. Almost 200 people joined it, and the comments left on the forum were all fond memories of how she was either a great educator, or a great person. I'm very certain that there are former students of Mrs. Dowd who didn't have such fond memories of her. That's a given to anyone who's been a student. However, as I scrolled through the memories I realized that her ripple effect was tremendous. 
Mrs. Dowd's life was driven by a passion that I believe is dying a slow death in our country's education system. She wanted students to be successful, but not as a grade point average. She wanted us to set a precedence in out life. She desired that through her passion and teaching, we would find something that fills us with passion; something we have an opinion about, something we will fight for, something that drives us to the brink of our limit. As I look back on how hard Mrs. Dowd pushed me, the dumbest person in the class by far, I realize that before she had a say in it, I didn't like writing, or reading, and anything of literary meaning. I don't want to be an English teacher, but those aspects formed my psyche, my personal beliefs, and how I would pursue those beliefs.
Teachers like Mrs. Dowd are to be valued. To remember her, I hope that everyone I meet will have a ripple effect and influence the way I live, just as she did.
We'll miss you, Mrs. Dowd. I know you're waiting for us.

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