A Debt Unpaid

When it came time to write the dedication to our new book on formative assessment, Lynne Dorfman and I chose people who had been influences on our literacy lives. My choice was my high school English teacher, Mrs. Krantz. I lived in a small coal-mining town in upstate Pennsylvania. In the early 1960’s my high school graduating class numbered just 35 students, and Mrs. Krantz had been our English teacher for two of the four years we spent there. I have so many positive memories of being in her class: reading Shakespeare and loving it because we acted out the plays and discovered the effects of betrayal (Julius Caesar), the results of petty feuds (Romeo and Juliet), and the corruption of absolute power (Macbeth); being allowed to choose what we read independently and writing about our choices as we elected (book reviews, advertisements, even poetry); writing “essays” that were really, for the most part, personal narratives. Not until I had been a teacher myself did I realize how ahead of her time Mrs. Krantz had been.

The most striking thing about her, though, was her insistence that all of us could and should “do the work.” We were 35 kids with 35 unique personalities, abilities, and interests. I believe that she gave us so much choice, not only in our reading but also in our writing, because choice was the way to offer opportunities for success. Mrs. Krantz had high expectations for each of us. For a period of time I had been enamored of novels by Grace Livingston Hill. Mrs. Krantz let me read and review several of them before she took me aside and suggested I try another author, “Just for variety, Diane. Here are some books I’ve enjoyed.” And she lent me her copies of To Kill a Mockingbird; Slaughterhouse Five; and Catch-22. Knowing I loved Jane Eyre, she also suggested I read Wide Sargasso Sea. I loved them all.

Mrs. Krantz was a woman who knew her students, knew what we needed, and worked hard to make sure that we worked hard too. The best gift she gave me was the gift of reflection—of thinking about what I did well and what I could do better. That gift has served me well over the course of my career. It is, undoubtedly, the most precious of her gifts to me.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but I do regret that I never told Mrs. Krantz how much she meant to me before she died. I think she knew implicitly; I would send cards and visit on occasion, but I never actually told her, never explicitly wrote about my debt to her. When I was still in the classroom, I asked my students in the spring during Teacher Appreciation Week to write a letter to a teacher recounting that teacher’s influence and their specific memories of them. The assignment was one that every single student without exception accepted with no groans. We would mail the letters, getting addresses of those who had retired from friends or HR, and invariably the teachers would write back. It was during this time every year that I felt regret that I, myself, had never thanked Mrs. Krantz. My advice for today, thank those who have inspired you!



4 thoughts on “A Debt Unpaid

  1. What a lovely tribute to your teacher! I’m sure your keeping in touch with her meant a great deal to her and carried its own message. I do know what you mean about regrets though…does she have family with whom you could share this slice? I’m sure they would value it enormously. Congrats on your book!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such wise advice — people are always so quick to let someone know if there is a problem but we often miss the opportunity to thank someone and tell them how they impacted us. What a great project …we both really enjoyed thinking about how to thank the mentors in our lives in the acknowledgement of our book. The dedication is perfect… is there a family member you could give it to? Thanks for sharing.
    Clare and Tammy

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Diane, Mrs. Krantz sounds like a perfect teacher, certainly a perfect role model. Sometimes it is those little words that have such a big impact that we regret not sharing. I’ve been there too and I’m working on taking those opportunities when they arise. This post is a beautiful tribute to a fine person!

    Liked by 1 person

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