On our meandering route from the historic Kettle Falls Hotel, in
Voyageurs National Park on the U.S.-Canadian border, to Douglas
Lodge in Itasca State Park, headwaters of the Mississippi River,
we stopped in Dorset, Minnesota. Dorset is a town of 23 people and
4 restaurants, which makes it the self-proclaimed restaurant
capital of the world, at least on a per capita basis. That’s where
we met Linda.
Linda taught English for 32 years before retiring and moving north
from Iowa. She now works at the Sister Wolf bookstore and coffee
shop in Dorset. When she mentioned her background, my wife asked
her if she read my column.
“Are you Stephen Wilbers?” she exclaimed, making little
mock bows to me. “I’ve read your column for years!”
I was embarrassed. The usual response when people first hear my
name is a quizzical look as they search their memories. Their
thoughts, I imagine, go something like this: Wilbers. Hmm. Sounds
vaguely familiar. Maybe the police report.
In this case, I should have bowed to Linda – and to all teachers
like her who have devoted their lives to educating our young
How many students did she work with each year? How many tens of
thousands of papers did she read? How many times did she explain
the difference between an adjective and an adverb – not “We had a
real good summer vacation,” but “We had a really good summer
vacation”? How many times did she correct dangling modifiers – not
“After years of pillaging, an archeologist was finally hired in
1860 to perform an official excavation of Pompeii,” but “After the
site was pillaged for years, an archeologist was finally hired in
1860 to perform an official excavation of Pompeii”?
At times it must have seemed a thankless task. Our success and
accomplishments as adults depend in large part on what we learned
as children from our teachers, but do we truly appreciate what
they did for us?
Do we even recall which teacher taught us to organize our thoughts
into clear three-part paragraphs structured by topic, development,
and resolution? Do we even remember which teacher taught us to
support our assertions with examples so that when we wrote the
letter of application for that job we really wanted we didn’t just
state we had good computer skills, we listed by name the programs
And what about that exceptional teacher who went beyond the rules
of grammar and punctuation and opened our eyes to the rich
possibilities of language, from the rhythm of a well-turned
sentence to the cadence of a Dickinson poem? And what about the
teacher who taught us to use the closing downbeat of a sentence to
our advantage so that we learned to not to write, “These cost
overruns are unacceptable to our board members,” but to write,
“Our board members find these cost overruns unacceptable”?
To Linda and teachers everywhere, I say thank you. I take off my
hat, and I bow to you.