Telling tales out of school

John Christensen The Chronicle-Express
Becky Bloomquist Holder and Stephanie Olsen will present a program of stories told by area teachers at 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Penn Yan.

Becky Bloomquist Holder and Stephanie Olsen will present a Readers’ Theater program of stories told by teachers at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on the corner of Main and Clinton Streets. Admission is free. Donations to support St. Mark’s International Partnership for education in Zimbabwe and Haiti will be gratefully accepted.

Members of St. Mark’s Church, Holder & Olsen interviewed a number of retired teachers from Penn Yan Academy – teachers they had growing up. From those interviews they have woven together the teachers’ stories into a wonderfully entertaining series of vignettes and story-telling scenes. Some are moving, some are funny, but all are true stories. Holder and Olsen were spurred on by the beloved memory of Charlotte Grady Fitzpatrick (“Mrs. Fitz”) and the tragically early death of the widely esteemed Elliot Vorce, to collect these universal stories, both good and bad, of the profound effect many truly great teachers have had upon their students. “We’re losing this group of dedicated teachers who taught the baby boomers. These people changed our lives. They inspired us,” said Olsen.

Gleaned from interviews with 10 teachers, including Penn Yan’s Ed Castillo, John Lambrosa, Charlie Marks, Ann Smithers, Helen Stewart, and the late Elliott Vorce, Larry Glazier, and Lucia Wheeler, the program is a compilation of wisdom, wit, adventure, and advice from veterans of the classroom. As much as the authors believe that this will bring many happy memories to Penn Yan alumni, they also hope to enflame current and future teachers with the remarkable spirit of their talented predecessors.

Olsen fondly recalls, “They had a real feeling for keeping the student’s best interests at heart. They gave everything. Do teachers today really believe they can change students’ lives? They did!”

Today’s mania for testing, contract disputes, and the fear of lawsuits can make some teachers treat their work as only a job with strictly defined duties, but the women recall that these were teachers who felt a genuine vocation to teach, who held on through generations of students, and whose devotion went far beyond 3:30 and the edge of the school grounds. “There is a lack of time now. This is almost a historical piece. We hope it provokes people to think and appreciate what teachers did then, what they were allowed to do,” says Olsen.

“We had the good fortune to live in a culture that trusted, even revered teachers. They felt the freedom for creativity in their classrooms,” says Holder. Many of the teachers they spoke with said how much harder things are for teachers today. “Teaching was an art; now it’s more of a science. They now have more on their plates. There’s more in the state curriculum,” says Holder, adding, “But they’re not supported by the culture, and are often blamed for things that are not their fault. We need to raise awareness of how much they do, and to show our regard for them.”

When asked what makes a great teacher, Olsen replied, “They’re able to find something in their students no one else has seen, and they help students find their own strengths. We forget how much of what we are is owed to our teachers.” Holder added, “Everyone has something to teach us. Good teaching is not quantifiable.” Hopefully, Telling Tales Out of School will remind everyone to appreciate what those quality teachers have done for us all.