Special Education

Teaching Is About So Much More Than a Job. My Mom and Great-Grandma Taught Me That.

Tom Rademacher is one of the three founding teachers of #LoveTeaching week. For more information on #LoveTeaching, including ideas on how to get involved, go to www.weloveteaching.org.
  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. Marie Rademacher was married, and married women weren’t allowed to teach back then, so she stayed Marie Jaeger just a little extra longer. For the past few years, I have celebrated #LoveTeaching week by writing about how much I love teaching, for all its frustrations and flaws, for all that it has done for me and to me. 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.[pullquote position="left"]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. I have a letter somewhere she wrote about the teachers unions, how it wasn’t doing nearly enough good with the amount of power it had. So, I know where I got that gene from, anyway. 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. Rademacher wasn’t my name either, just by the way. My wife and I took it when we got married, in honor of Paul and Marie, wishing for nothing more for our lives than love and troublemaking. 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

Marie lived into her 90’s, but very few of those years overlapped with mine. My Grandma, grandma to dozens, died of cancer when I was too young to remember much more than it being one of the first times I’d ever been in a church. My mom, though, who is large parts both of those women, raised her four children far too often by herself. Raised me, you know, which can’t have been easy, and did so while going to college to teach special ed. 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. She promises me now that they were still warm when she handed them out to fourth graders. My mom told me often how important it was to be friends with the janitor. 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. For many years of my life, my mom professionally saved the lives of kids who were unsaveable. My mom taught me that teaching saves lives, and if anyone believes otherwise, I can point them in the direction of some of her old students. 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. I don’t think I was born to be a teacher, don’t think it was something that was passed down to me. But, from mom and Marie I learned compassion and love, I learned how to be a troublemaker and a hard worker. I learned the importance of a sense of humor and a sense of duty. They aren’t the reason I teach, but they’re the reason I love teaching.
Tom Rademacher
Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2014 he was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing and writes about teaching on his blog. His book, published by University of Minnesota Press, is called "IT WON’T BE EASY: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching."

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