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 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
"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 people.
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 the programs we knew by
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 glint of a well-turned sentence to the muted
beauty 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 write, not "These cost overruns
are unacceptable to our board members," but "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