Remembering My Teacher: Ruth Chapin

There’s a saying: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” I’ve had a lot of teachers and professors in my time. I’ve not thanked them enough.

The standout of all my teachers was Ruth Chapin, my sixth-grade English teacher at L.C. Curtis Junior High in Santa Clara, California, for the 1963-1964 school year. Mrs. Chapin died recently at the age of 96. What made her such a standout?

She cared about her students.

  • She wanted to make a difference in our lives not just for the time we were together but for the long run.
  • She was an exemplar to us early in our lives.
  • She was a compelling leader—we wanted to do well for her and for ourselves.
  • She didn’t have a huge ego (or if she did, we didn’t see it)
  • She would tally the “um’s” and “ah’s” on the chalk board to teach us not to add those unnecessary sounds in conversation. It was a most valuable lesson. I’d like to call her back to duty to stop the use of the word “like” used as every third or fourth word in sentences, and, also the word “guys,” e.g., “What can I bring you guys?” “Guys” is unnecessary and redundant.

I was in Mrs. Chapin’s classroom when the announcement came over the public-address system informing us that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. The announcement came just minutes after 11:00 a.m. PST. As the announcement was read, I remember looking at Mrs. Chapin to see her reaction to this news. I could tell by her reaction that this was a really big deal even though she was strong for us. This news event would bond us to her forever.

A second announcement came a short time later letting us know that President Kennedy had died.

We were sent to lunch early and told to stay out on the playground. I’m sure the faculty wanted to not only learn more about what had happened but also to shed tears out of our sight while they figured out how to address this with sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. The oxygen had been sucked out of the room and our world.

Mrs. Chapin was the only teacher to ever assign me to detention. I’d had some medical issues and stopped doing my homework as I was depressed about my condition. I remember her message like it was yesterday: “You can either do your homework, turn it in on time to get credit for it, or, you can do your homework late and not get credit for it, but, you’re going to do your homework.” For me, it was the shot heard around the world. I was embarrassed about getting detention, but, learned an important lesson.

It’s remarkable that I thought of Mrs. Chapin in the past month and recall thinking, “She couldn’t still be alive, could she?” Perhaps she had just passed. I’m reminded I saw her at my 30th high school reunion in the year 2000. It was great to know she wanted to know what had happened to her students.

Thank you, Mrs. Chapin. Please know you are cherished and respected as few teachers ever are.

Is there a teacher you’d like to thank? Perhaps it isn’t too late.

What do you think? I welcome your comments! Dave Gardner

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