A Teacher Who Made a Difference
Her name was Miss Ritcey. She wore tweed skirt suits, sensible shoes, and a hint of a smile.
A few of us were pulled from our classrooms once a week and taken to the library to spend the morning with her. We sat in table groups, hardly believing our luck.
On our first day, she called us into a circle, and said quietly, “A boy wants to go home, but there is a man with a mask in his way. Who is the man in the mask?” We were allowed to ask her questions with yes or no answers. We fell over ourselves coming up with possibilities, before realizing the key to the answer was asking the right question. We finally got to the idea of sport, and then baseball, and the answer: the man was the catcher for the other team - the boy was afraid of being tagged out. It was drastically different from the Halloween or horror ideas that initially popped into our collective heads.
From then on, we were hooked. Unaccustomed to learning being fun or engaging, her class was like a mirage to a delirious desert traveler. Days spent in our regular classroom dragged by, while we waited for that quiet knock which signaled her presence in the building.
She lead us in discussions ranging from books to science. We did the talking. She mostly listened. Everything fascinated her.
When she did speak, she was quiet and deliberate and began all of her sentences with, “Now, people.” As though we were adults. As though we were important. As though she was giving the Throne Speech instead of addressing a motley group of kids aged ten to twelve.
For those few hours each week in the library, it was cool to be a geek. No idea was ridiculous. No question was stupid. No contribution went unnoticed.
We became our very best selves. Freed from chalkboard pointers, we dared to dream. We learned what it meant to think outside the box. We were encouraged to be different. We were encouraged to be daring. Miss Ritcey often smiled, but never laughed. We emulated her, and listened carefully to our classmates, used our powers of critical thinking to debate ideas rather than dismiss them out of hand.
She didn’t need to raise her voice. Robbie and Jennifer - prone to misbehaving - sat quietly for a change. We were all in awe of our wise teacher, mesmerized by her serene aura. Lulled by the calm oasis she created, despite it being in the basement of the school, where three rows of books amounted to the library. Her presence induced a pavlovian response to learning, cobwebs cleared from our brains and we readied for takeoff.
From grades four to eight, Miss Ritcey parachuted into our school, a Mary Poppins amongst mortal teachers. After that I never saw her again. I never kept in touch. She was constantly on the move, rotating schools around the city, and it was long before email existed. Dropping by to see her wasn’t an option. I haven’t seen or heard of her for thirty years, but I will never forget. Her voice was one of reason, her body was one of composure, her pores reeked wisdom and the palest scent of Chloe, and especially the unwavering respect she showed each and every one of us.
Miss Sally Ritcey, wherever you are, you encouraged us to believe in ourselves, instilled in us a hunger for knowledge, and a desire to be different. Thank you.
“Wisdom begins in wonder.” - Socrates
Who was the teacher that made a difference in your life?
“One of my little boys just kept saying, 'I love you, I love you, please don't die with me.' I never thought I was going to die. The whole time I just kept screaming to them, 'Quit worrying, we're fine, we're fine.' And I'm very loud, so I just hoped they could hear me because I could hear them screaming. [One girl] was sobbing, and I was like, 'We're going to be fine, we're going to be fine, I'm protecting you.' And then I said a few prayers. 'God please take care of my kids.'”—
RHONDA CROSSWHITE, sixth grade teacher at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, which was leveled by a tornado. She threw herself over students inside a bathroom stall as the storm passed, likely helping to save their lives.
Teachers. Among the best of us.
My work as a public artist is specific to the discovery and interpretation of connections between people and culture through interactive, participatory visual art. For the last four years, Green School math teacher Nathan Affield and I have teamed up to create murals that combine art and mathematics to empower students and connect them to their communities in Brooklyn, New York. These projects build lasting relationships and help students realize their strengths.
Our first project took place in the school with two mapping projects that are permanently installed in our school’s hallways. Based on the sustainability principles of the school, the students went out in their community to collect visual data on what was culturally, environmentally, and personally sustainable in their neighborhoods. They mapped out the neighborhoods using zoomed in abstractions, noting the collected data with symbols.
In 2011, Affield and I created a project where a math class surveyed the whole school on how they were feeling, what color that feeling represented, where that feeling fell on a scale between one and 10, and what time of day the data was recorded. The students then aggregated and color-coded the data to create a 150 histogram covering the back wall of the school. In a line graph organized by the time of day and negative space that color–codes the students’ grades, one gets a full day glimpse into the emotions of the students at any given point of the day. At first glance, the mural looks like an abstract, colorful cityscape. It is only when the mural is “read”, that the data can be understood.
Histogram of Emotion
In 2012, we brought the students outside the classroom and into the community where they teamed up with seniors from the local senior center to graph out weather patterns from 1930 to a projection of the future. In class, students had been studying mathematical modeling and how to use evidence to defend a claim. With daily high temperature data from NOAA, two-dimensional graphing techniques and their knowledge of central tendency, students collaborated to reposition their two-dimensional graphs into a single three-dimensional line graph modeling the past weather cycles that they used as evidence to base their climate change claims. They worked with seniors—some who remembered the historical weather patterns the students had graphed—and passerbys, creating lasting connections among each other and the community.
This year we will be visualizing the number Pi on another wall on Graham Avenue in East Williamsburg. The design involves replacing the infinite digits of Pi with color-coded blocks and viewing the irrational number as a shape. For the first time, students will see the negative space of Pi and search for patterns. To focus students on the concept of infinity, we chose to use the Fibonacci or Golden Spiral, representing another irrational number, Phi, as the framework for the visualization. As the space in the spiral gets smaller, the bars of the number shorten. When you first look at the image, you might see a shell pattern or a cityscape. Only upon investigation, will you know that it is a representation of Pi.
Mockup of Visualization of Pi
The act of painting murals is empowering. Once a student makes a mark on a wall, it becomes his or hers. When you walk down the busy street of Graham Ave, almost every wall is covered in random tags. We help the students create public art that means something and has significance. Students living in Brooklyn need this kind of connection to their communities because when the students invest in their communities, the communities invest in them. These murals are also made for the neighborhood. The results are not only beautiful images, but also sparked conversations.
The Kickstarter campaign we created has been a wild success, attaining its goal within 48 hours, which has more than doubled in four days. Money beyond the goal will be invested back into the community to create more public art in the neighborhood. Artist Ellie Balk will manage a grant and call for local artists to create another mural in the neighborhood. A scholarship program for students will also be set up. People still wanting to support this project should know that their investment will go directly to the enrichment of students and their community. Consider backing an educational and culturally enriching project.
I’d say about once a week, I have a seventh grader visit my room at school. I don’t teach that grade, but I knew this student last year. She always comes to my room to borrow books from my classroom library.
Her friend, another lovely young lady, accompanies her as they are walking buddies after school.
The seventh grader gives me an awesome grin and says “You’re the secret source.”Her friend nods knowingly.
I ask “What do you mean?”
She says “You have the best books. You are my secret book source.”
Her friends smiles and says “Now, you’ll know what we mean when we say ‘the source’!”
How cool is that? I’d like to say at the start of my first year I had a measly double digit amount of books. These books took up about 3 shelves-if even- and that’s it. Due to tumblr, I now have a library.
And I am the secret source.
Do you get any visitors in your room? Students or otherwise that come for something? If so, for what?
I need to raise $50 for Pre-K Celebration ASAP, if anyone is interested in donating via paypal or chase epay let me know!
The need for funds is a long story, but know it would be going to our 3 Pre-K’s celebration on the last day of school. We’d like to buy a small spread of food and some resources for the kids to take home.
Please e-mail me positivelypt (at) gmail (dot) com or use fan mail!