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I recently had the deep pleasure of participating in a symposium at Penn State honoring Cheryl Glenn on the occasion of her retirement. It was a grand epideictic event, with five panels of students and colleagues speaking about what they had learned from Glenn and her groundbreaking work, including scores of articles on feminism and rhetoric, feminist methodologies, women in the history of rhetoric, and writing and rhetoric pedagogies as well as books such as Rhetoric Retold; Unspoken: The Rhetoric of Silence; Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope.
I got to give a presentation as well, in which I described Cheryl, who was my first PhD student when I taught at Ohio State, as unflinchingly curious, irreverently funny, fiercely determined—a 21st-century "woman of parts" whose accomplishments are legion and whose mentoring and friendship set a high standard. Every person who spoke noted how fully she embodies hope, which she differentiates, following Cornel West, from optimism, arguing that hope is what we hold onto insistently when we have good reason to believe things are not good and not looking to turn out well. In such situations, Cheryl argues, we do well to choose hope.
I thought I knew everyone at this event, but I was wrong. Two women on one of the panels were completely new to me—because they turned out to be students Cheryl had taught when they were in the tenth grade back in Marysville, Ohio, fifty-one years ago. And here they were, all these decades later, wanting to tell us about their vivid memories of the really smart, really cool, really inspiring teacher who also taught their journalism class, worked with them on school publications, and left a lifelong impression of having challenged them to be their best selves while always, always supporting them and giving them her full attention.
Teachers, as Cheryl Glenn demonstrates, can make a difference. A big difference. A lasting difference. One that can last 51 years—or a lifetime.
These two students went on to productive careers but did not become teachers. But the rest of us in that room were all teachers, teachers who had come together to praise and celebrate one very special teacher and congratulate her on her retirement. I left that symposium thinking of all the teachers who made a lasting impression on me, who gave me their full attention, made me feel as if my thoughts were worth listening to, and whose voices I carry with me to this day. I am thinking too of when and how I thanked and praised these teachers, and whether I did, or ever could, do so sufficiently.
Who are the teachers who have most challenged, inspired, and supported you? Are you still in touch with them, or if not might you still get in touch? Now might be the perfect time to send your thanks and to praise them out loud. They most surely deserve it. Teachers celebrating teachers.
Pass it on.
The image used in this post is in the public domain.
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