It was several years ago, but I remember my Institute sessions with Kathleen Tolan at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project so well. She brought an intensity to our learning that went deep into my teaching heart – I left each session filled with ideas, enthusiasm, and (most importantly) idealism. That last bit, idealism, is what gets to me in this stage of my teaching life – new ideas are wonderful and enthusiasm helps us reach our students, but idealism is something else entirely, it elevates the work we do and gives it a meaning beyond the lesson plan or learning objective of the day. Idealism is the hope that our work will live on in the hearts and minds of our kids long after they have left the four walls of our classroom.
On Sunday, I heard of Kathleen’s sudden passing, and I remembered back to that Summer Institute. As the evening wore on, I read account after account about her influence over those I consider my mentors: Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, Maggie Beattie Roberts, Vicki Vinton, and others. Then, this post by Tom Marshall stopped me in my tracks:
December 4 at 7:32pm ·What did you teach? These were the words Kathleen Tolan pushed us with at the end of every reading conference. Yes, it’s easy to say nice things throughout a conference with a child. Sometimes, it’s easy to be clouded in the complex acts of reading and teaching and say too many things, because there is so much to say when you’re emotionally involved (like I am right now!) However, Kathleen’s words, “What did you teach?” ring true for me in every interaction I try to have today. What meaning does your life as a teacher, as a friend, as a person have? How will this person you just interacted with remember you and feel better, because they spent these moments with you?Kathleen taught me and so many of my professional friends so much. She leaves behind a legacy of having helped millions of kids find meaning in their lives through reading. She leaves behind a legacy of hundreds of thousands of teachers who are more empowered to make the world a better place for kids because of all she’s taught them. We can each strive to do just a shadow of that. If we make that our aim, we answer Kathleen’s question, “What did you teach?” so much more than naming a teaching point in a conference…it means we leave behind a legacy. Maybe like Kathleen’s! We’ll all miss you, my friend! Thank you for teaching us so much more than you ever realized!