There has been a woman in my family teaching in Montana for over 100 years.
I was probably seven or eight the first time I remember my grandmother making this boast. To be fair at the time she did say almost 100 years, yet even that didn’t curb my disbelief. I smiled and nodded, but inside I was rolling my eyes and saying, “okay Grams, sure there has.”
A couple years later I learned that my mom had taught two of my best friends’ moms when they were in high school – admittedly that did boggle my mind a bit. Yet I still didn’t really understand how many generations of people the women in my family had taught and impacted over the years. That realization came later.
In high school I worked after school at a restaurant. One day an older man, (probably in his late fifties, but to a 16-year-old that’s plenty older) came in alone and we started chatting while waiting for his food. That was the first time I met someone who had been taught not by my mother, but by my grandmother.
After that day, I started quoting my grandmother’s boast every chance I got.
That was also the first time I considered becoming a teacher myself someday. I even started out my first three years of college as an education major. I was going to teach high school world history, just like my mom. Three years was all the longer it took me to realize I didn’t want to be a teacher badly enough to actually be one, or at least not a good one.
Because to me, teaching wasn’t just a career choice – it was the passing on of a torch that has burned in my family for over a century. I knew what amazing teachers were, I was raised by them.
As much as I would’ve loved to carry on the tradition, it would be for that reason alone. Not because it was what I really wanted to do with my life.
Now, another bunch of years later, I’ve learned even more about my long teaching lineage. My great aunt Mercy Jackson started teaching in Lewistown, Mt in 1892; she was 17 years old. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse with no blackboards and she rode her horse to school every day. She also had to provide the textbooks. Aunt Mercy taught for 47 years, until 1937.
My grandma started teaching right after she graduated college; it was 1945, also in Lewistown. She taught until her parents got sick a few years later. She took time off to care for them; then met my grandpa and a couple years later became a mom. She started teaching again in 1963 and taught for another ten years.
Her older daughter, my aunt, started teaching in 1975; another aunt and my mom were both also teaching by the early 80’s. All three of them are still teaching today; my mom and one aunt are retiring after this school year, but for my other aunt there’s no end in sight and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
So if my math is right, which you can never be too sure about, a woman in my family has been teaching in Montana for 104 almost-consecutive years. A fact I find daunting to think about, yet also one I am very proud of.
I may have no intention of continuing our family legacy of teaching, but hope for my generation isn’t completely lost; one of my cousins taught for a few years in Chinook, MT and has the degree to teach again if she should so choose.
That has to count for something, right?
If nothing else I will carry on our family tradition of passion for learning about history – or learning in general. Things literally taught to me by my mother, and her mother before her.
My grandma taught my mom history in junior high, as my mom taught me in high school.
I will definitely be taking Skye to school, not teaching her in it. Yet there’s always the possibility that someday she’ll be standing in front of her own daughter in a classroom. Teaching does run in her blood.