By Bill Cirone
Once in a while something takes place that reinforces how powerful and utterly essential teaching is as a profession. We received just such a sad reminder of that fact with the recent passing of Geraldine Jones, who embodied all that is noble, selfless, and vital about teaching.
As a highly skilled, impressive new first grade teacher in the Hope School District in 1952, Gerry became the very first National Teacher of the Year. It was an award McCall’s magazine had created to address the national teacher shortage and encourage young people to enter the profession. The publisher said at the time that an important goal was to bolster public confidence in education. It is an issue that endures to this day.
Gerry traveled to the White House where she was honored by President Harry Truman and then-Senator Richard Nixon. “This honor is for the entire teaching profession,” she said at the time. I personally thank all teachers everywhere for the opportunity to represent them. I humbly live in their glory.”
She was always a reluctant celebrity.
That attitude of humility reflects the culture of teachers everywhere, who quietly go about the business of instilling young children with skills needed for learning and for life.
And the cycle continues. With wonderful irony, in 2014 Allison Heiduk, a third grade teacher also in the Hope School District, was named County Teacher of the Year. Three of Allison’s siblings had been in Gerry Jones’ first grade class long ago. We were so pleased that Gerry was able to join the “Salute to Teachers” celebration at Bacara Spa and Resort that spring when Allison’s award was announced, more than 50 years after Gerry had been in the spotlight. It was wonderful to honor Gerry’s legacy in the presence of her daughter Marcey and four generations of teachers and students who followed her. Gerry’s joy was clear.
It is no exaggeration to say that teachers infuse our democracy with the elements needed for its survival.
All teachers — whether public school teachers plying their trade in a classroom or moms teaching their own children at home — give vital knowledge and skills to our young people. They make sure children are armed with the tools to work, to thrive, and to vote responsibly as adults, continuing the essential traditions of democracy.
We know the value of teachers. We know there could be no other professions without them. We know that all the ”self taught” individuals first had to learn to read and compute and reason before they could take those skills and move forward on their own.
In a sense, teachers insure their own immortality by sending messages to the future through all the young lives they touch. Geraldine Jones was the embodiment of the virtues of a good teacher, and that spirit will be immortal.
We are grateful for all the gifts she gave, and we are happy to use this chance to salute all the teachers at every level who make a difference every day in the lives of the children they teach and the community they serve.
Gerry would have wanted that.