The love she gives // Baraboo Family Photographer

You know that Beatles song that ends “the love you give is equal to the love you make”? I kept thinking of that as I was editing these photos. This lovely lady was my son’s first grade teacher this year, and taught my older son three years ago. She is a stellar educator. She is the type of teacher we all want for our kids and the kind we should thank our stars we have in our district — even if we don’t have children in her class.

I gave her a family photo session for Christmas and we got around to redeeming it last week. It was wonderful to see her with her beautiful, happy, and incredibly loved family.

A few years ago I wrote a column for the local paper about her. To read it in its entirety, scroll down below the photos. My favorite part remains the love note one of the students in her classroom wrote to her, that said, “Do your kids think they’re lucky to have you? I think they are.”

I’m sure they feel the same.

On the last day of school last week I went to thank my son’s teacher, Christine Peterson at East Elementary, for a great year.

I told myself I wasn’t going to cry.

But my son had a bit of a rough start to first grade, being one of the youngest in his class and being a boy who easily caved to the worst of boy behavior.

What I tried to tell Mrs. Peterson Friday outside of school, before the tears welled up and the embarrassing fanning-of-my-face started, was that she had straightened him out.

She had done it through tough love and strategic teaching, through paying attention to his needs while pushing him to abide by the rules of her classroom. It worked.

I know not only because I stopped getting calls that he had accepted a dare from an older boy to kick said boy in the private parts.

I know because I started volunteering in Mrs. Peterson’s class once a week, and I got to watch her work her subtle and effective and hard-won magic.

I saw her coach a child who barely spoke at the beginning of the year to a whisper by Christmas and, by spring, a quiet but confident classroom volume. She helped that child find her voice.

I saw her ebb and flow to meet the extraordinarily varied needs of the kids in her class — physical, emotional, behavioral, academic, family.

And I marveled at the way she acted as a parent figure to 21 kids, seven hours a day: with unconditional love and patience, but structured by discipline, and the expectation that they do and be their best.

While helping out in class, I often graded the kids’ math tests, and many of the students would write “love notes” to their teacher on the back.

One I remember said something like, “Do your kids think they’re lucky to have you? I think they are.”

I am happy to honor my child’s teacher. But what is so moving about this for me is that I know it extends far beyond her.

I know this from my time as an education reporter observing teaching at every level in this district, and from the hours spent interviewing teachers retiring after devoting 35 or 40 years to this district — a lifetime’s work — and still feeling they had more to give.

They are not saints. None of us are. But good teachers are extraordinary human beings doing what few people can do, and even fewer can do well.

And when it comes to good teachers, Baraboo, we hit the jackpot.

The truth is, many of our teachers’ loudest critics are utterly incapable of doing the job themselves — both in terms of education and experience, and the intangible qualities that make a great teacher: patience, the ability to see the best in their fellow human beings and to nurture the best in children — even difficult children.

I think if some of these critics dropped their grudge against that one teacher they feel wronged them; if they periodically closed their mouths and opened their eyes and ears and hearts to what’s actually going on in our classrooms; it would go a long way toward mending the rifts around education in our community.

On that note, Mrs. Peterson tells me she always welcomes help from volunteers — whether they’re parents, grandparents, or just community members who want to make a difference in our schools. I’m sure many other teachers feel the same.

To volunteer your time or talents, call the district’s Community Education Office at 355-3950, ext. 1550.

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