Teaching is about so much more than a job. my mom and great-grandma taught me that. tgas advisors


My great-grandma was a lumberjack named P.V. Canthook. This was after she was Marie Jaeger, and after she secretly married a farm hand with the name Rademacher. They were married the day before Paul went off to fight The Great War to “wipe the Kaiser off the map.”

That’s what the wedding announcement said in the paper once he returned. They got married in secret just before he left so that Marie Jaeger could keep teaching in an actual one-room schoolhouse, keep supplying her students with breakfast and mittens.

This year, I kept thinking about Marie, about her and other strong women from my family who were teachers, who shaped who I am and who shaped how and why I love teaching the way that I do. This year, for #LoveTeaching, I’m telling a love story. I’m writing a valentine. Once Upon a Time

The Rademachers set up a little farm in Northern Michigan. They grew berries, selling whatever their 12 kids didn’t eat, and while the kids played in flat-rock-bottomed rivers and grew up and went to war and got married, Marie Rademacher wrote stories and letters as Canthook, the opinionated and sharp-witted lumberjack who could write things in the local paper that a housewife couldn’t.

Besides all that, they were troublemakers. They were the kind of couple that would wake up in the middle of the night, pick all the vegetables in their friend’s huge garden and leave behind canned food, sticking neatly in ground, all in a row.

All of this is true, at least marginally more true than most family stories are. I have a big ‘ole binder of Marie’s old writings, the Canthook stories and the letters to the editor, the manuscript-size collection of sweet short stories about Paul Bunyan, who was half the guy with the blue ox, and half the Paul she was married to.

This should all be a book some day, if I had the courage to write it, but I’m no good with mushy, and those two lived together into their 90’s, and every day until the very-nearly end, they would walk, holding hands, to get the mail together, Paul and Marie.

My family used to visit the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) during the summer sometimes, some of Lord-knows-how-many of Marie’s great grandchildren. Their daughter Jean lived next door, was a nurse in three wars and always gave us gum on our way over to the “the folks.”

Another daughter, Pat, was my grandma, who I remember mainly as a mythical figure of goodness from my childhood, who worked as a librarian and specialized in befriending the sorts of people that hung out at libraries because they didn’t have anywhere else to go.

She had 10 kids of her own, and, whenever the family gathered, found a way to get someone wet (including sending me and my siblings to wake up the sleeping boyfriend of one of her daughters with four glasses of ice water). Again with the troublemakers. Lessons from Mom and Great-Grandma

Before she was licensed, she was “the Science Lady” in my elementary school. Every class in the school went to her one day a week, and her room was a magical place. It was a place where we made water tornadoes out of two-liter soda bottles, where we played with bubbles and paper airplanes, and where once we were treated with an impromptu dissection lab featuring cow hearts she picked up at the slaughterhouse.

As a licensed teacher, she worked with students with behavior struggles. Kids with arrest records (or racing towards them). Kids everyone had given up on over and over again. My brothers and sister and I, we were her children, but then there were these kids.

My mom was a brilliant teacher. She loved it, or, at least, every part of it that didn’t have to do with adults and adult egos and any conversation that included the phrase, “well, the way we’ve always done it.” So, I know where I got that gene, too.

She doesn’t have a classroom or students anymore, but she’s still that teacher. She and Marie are proof that teaching is about so much more than what your job is, it’s about who you are, and so much of who I am, lots of the good parts anyway, comes from mom and Marie.