Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In Memory of a Great Woman, and an Incredible Teacher

One of the first things I remember about my education classes at Providence College was a simple question.  Who was your favorite teacher?  Why?  I had some great teachers during my four years at Scituate Jr. Sr. High School (as it was called back in the day.)  My chorus teacher, Mr. Kane, an English and Drama teacher, Mr. Nipps, a history teacher, Ms. Winters.  But one name came to mind above the rest.  Mrs. Mumford.  I went to a small school so I was fortunate to have been her student for two of my four years in high school.  One year we were given the task of public speaking.  This shouldn’t have been as daunting as it was since by Sophomore year I had already fallen in love with acting.  But this was different.  This frightened the living daylights out of me.  So I did what I knew; I took each topic given and wrote a monologue.  Sometimes I even used props!  Most teachers would have never allowed this, but Mrs. Mumford was ahead of her time.  She saw my anxiety, and allowed me to complete the assignment in a manner I was comfortable with.  She was differentiating lessons before it became accepted practice in the classroom. 

When I developed the actor’s superstition of not saying “Macbeth” in a theatre, some of my friends found this hysterical.  One classmate in particular decided to read parts of Macbeth to me in class on opening night.  With a smile and a wink, Mrs. Mumford explained to the other student that theatre superstitions were to be taken seriously.  She was just that cool. 

Once, and I have never told this story, she accused me of plagiarism.  I was so upset!  I had taken something I had written earlier, and reworked it for another assignment.  When I explained this to her, she of course listened, but also told me that it was so well written she had made the assumption.  Mrs. Mumford thought I could write?!  I was, and remain to this day, overjoyed by this.  She was also quick to point out your strong points in front of the class.  Having a teacher, of her magnitude, share your accomplishments with the class is something that stays with you forever. 

Years later, as I found my political feet, I was lobbying for a cause at the RI State House.  Mrs. Mumford, then Representative Mumford, welcomed me on the House floor with a warm hug.  When I made the decision to become a teacher, and I told her this, she was thrilled.  After all those years, she still cared about former students, and her community.

Teachers inspire, they make students think, question and explore the world around them.  A good teacher is remembered fondly.  A great teacher is never forgotten.  Mrs. Mumford was one of these great teachers. This week we lost Mrs. Mumford, and the news was devastating to say the least.  I have frequently stated that if I can be half the teacher she was, I’ll be doing right by my students.  She was amazing.  I often think of her when I enter a classroom, especially when I am faced with a student that needs that extra encouragement. 

The world has lost a wonderful woman.  Those of us lucky enough to have known her will never forget her.  

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