Jenn Smith: Looking for something to do this week? Thank your teachers

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During times of crisis, the way you respond is often due to the values that shape you.

And during this time of crisis, I, like many, have been doing a fair amount of reflection and soul-searching, often alone, but sometimes, in the company of friends.

Last week, I finally caught up with my high school friend, Brian Edward (Leach), during a good old-fashioned phone call that lasted an hour or so. We met through the Apollonian Players, aka the drama department at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton. I wasn't a theater die-hard who memorized every Broadway tune or devoured compendiums of classic playwrights. But, I've always had a liking for theater folks and their abilities to profoundly interpret the world around us, so I keep many around in my company for good perspective.

Just before the world came to a grinding halt, Brian in February had premiered a one-man show, "Quentin Crisp: The Last Word," at Pittsburgh's City Theatre. I didn't make it, but he told me how our beloved high school director, Tom Towne, made the road trip with some other now-retired Berkshire County school personnel, exhibiting his enduring support for a former student.

That kicked off a conversation about other teachers we had, who supported us, inspired us, and whose educational legacies live on in who we are today.

You know the proverb "It takes a village to raise a child." I often tell people I'm a child of that village. Ever curious and restless growing up, I was always keen to try new things and spent more time in and around school than at home, dashing between homework help to play rehearsal, swim practice to newspaper club.

While simultaneously talking and reminiscing with Brian, I decided to do a Google search for a teacher who I owe a lot of my career to, "Mrs. O'D," aka Mary O'Donnell. I never had her for a history or social studies teacher, for which she had a reputation for being brutally punishing for misspellings and mislabeled continental maps. But she was the semi-reluctant newspaper club adviser as well, where she exercised exacting standards for accuracy and sarcasm. I loved her.

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So I gasped mid-sentence when my internet search turned up her obituary from last June.

I sincerely regret missing this, in my own newspaper nonetheless, and attending her services. But what I regret more being too busy to never fully tell her how much she influenced me.

Sure, we'd run into each other from time to time, usually at the Pittsfield Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store, where we'd have a nice little catch-up between the fabric and miniatures aisles. Mrs. O'Donnell was a keen craftsperson who taught me to layout pages on Aldus PageMaker and create mock-ups with clip art literally cut using an X-acto knife and positioned on a page using a light box and a grid.

I never got a chance to tell her how she improved my language and reporting skills and helped me develop much-need self-confidence when she let this underclassman take the reins of a high school newspaper. (Thanks, Blue Wave team.)

So as you find yourself with some free time this week, look up a former teacher you loved, and share a post, make a call, or go old school and send a handwritten note to tell them "thank you."

As many parents who are now homebound with their kids are discovering, educators are underestimated and invaluable pillars of our society. Don't wait to remind them that they, too, are performers of everyday heroics.

So, for what it's worth, thanks, Mrs. O'D, for your persistence, insistence and caring, and for giving this once-meek and lowly high school freshman a noble trail to blaze. I'm forever indebted and grateful to your being.

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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