Not long after COVID hit and virtual learning became a real thing for millions of us, “Grey’s Anatomy” creator, Shonda Rhimes, tweeted that teachers deserved to make a billion dollars a year, or maybe a week.
She’s not wrong. Not by a long shot.
Most teachers I know have been underpaid, overworked, and over-stressed and I’ve never known one that entered the field with the far-fetched idea of getting rich.
Nor have I known many teachers who truly had three months of summer off; if anything, they were working at the school for summer programs or planning for the start of the next school year.
The teachers I know, for the most part, went into education because they truly, genuinely love teaching and helping kids learn, from kindergarten all the way to college.
Even the ones that seem to take great pride in making us suffer.
I had one in particular.
Mrs. Annie Laura Pace.
She was my college biology professor when I was attending the Watkinsville campus of Truett McConnell College, biding my time, earning my core credits while I worked on my transcript to transfer to a four-year university.
The little satellite campus was housed in, of all things, the Bell’s shopping center, so classrooms were empty storefronts sandwiched between the Revco and a dry cleaner.
The first day of the new quarter, our small storefront classroom was filled beyond capacity with probably over 40 students, many standing to the walls.
One, evidently a transient student from UGA, suggested Mrs. Pace find a bigger classroom for us.
She didn’t even look up at him from the front of the room. “Why? When I hand out this syllabus, 10 of you will walk out that door and go straight to the registrar to change your schedule. When you have your first test next week, half of you will drop the class. And by the following week, there will only be about 15, at the most, of you left. So, there’s no need. This one will be more than large enough.”
She was right, too.
She made us highly aware that she did not ‘give’ A’s and seldom were they earned in her classes.
Our lab notebook would be so detailed it would be able to stand up in a court of law as evidence.
I was starting to wonder if I should drop the class.
One classmate complained about why she had to know this stuff.
“Why are you going to school?” Mrs. Pace asked.
“To be a nurse,” the student responded.
“And you don’t think having basic knowledge of biology is important to being a nurse?”
I was a psychology major at the time. I didn’t understand why I needed to know all of this protozoa and cell theory. Plus, I hated the labs.
After we finished lab one day, my lab partners grabbed their stuff to go, leaving me with the clean up again.
“Hey – why do I always get left with this?” I asked.
The guys stopped in their tracks, surprised I had said anything.
“Because –” they both began.
“Because what? I am a girl? Get yourself over here and get this cleaned up. I am not your mother!”
They grumbled momentarily but dropped their bags and helped me clean the lab table. As I headed out, Mrs. Pace, who had been sitting at the front of the lab quietly, stopped me.
“Ms. Sepassi, I have been waiting for this moment.”
“How so?” I asked.
“I was wondering how long you’d let them get away with doing that. Some young women don’t want to rock the boat or be seen as rude. Keep sticking up for yourself, especially when it’s difficult to do so.”
I was surprised at her statement, but only nodded as I went out the door.
She was the first – maybe only – professor to make me cry, as we neared the final exam and I was scared I was going to have to make a 200 in order to make an A, and I didn’t know how that was possible. I sat in my little Geo in the parking lot, sobbing. Those same lab partners went back to the classroom to let Mrs. Pace know she had broken me.
Not one to allow emotions to impact her, Mrs. Pace was undeterred.
“Why is Ms. Sepassi crying?”
“She has to make a 200 on the final to get an A,” one of them explained.
Mrs. Pace, I was told, frowned and said, “Evidently math is not her strong suit.”
I earned that A -- every bit of it. I was prouder of that one grade than I was of any others.
I wondered what had happened to her, and if she was still teaching. I Googled and found out she had passed away a few years after she taught me. I was amazed at what a legacy she had as a teacher. She had even been honored by the White House at one time for her work in science education.
She was the toughest teacher I ever had, maybe even tougher than some of the professors I had in grad school.
There were times I probably hated her and felt like her sole life purpose was to make me miserable. She even alluded to that fact a time or two in class.
It was the most challenging class I had and one where I was pushed to do more and learn more, especially in something that is not one of my stronger subjects. I breathed a sigh of relief when that quarter ended.
And of all the teachers I’ve had, it’s been her lessons that have stayed with me the most.