A few weeks ago, I paid a visit to one of my favorite places in the world, Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and took a wonderful altered book workshop led by Lorraine Reynolds.
I’d brought with me an old 1960’s-era library book that had been discarded from the library at the school where I work, and thus it wasn’t too much of a surprise when the book’s theme became apparent to me; this book was going to share the story of the joys and sorrows experienced by schoolteachers, past and present. As a veteran of the teaching profession who was at that moment preparing to start another year in the classroom, this was a topic that I knew intimately–and as I took out bits and pieces of ephemera from my own collection and combined them with items found in Lorraine’s boxes of antique schoolbooks, vintage papers, and imagery, my story (and that of all teachers through the ages) tumbled out with very little difficulty.
Here is the book’s first page. The phrase “Doubts and Considerations” jumped out at me from the book in which it appeared, because I think all of us who teach (and really, all of us in any profession) wonder from time to time if we’re in the right place, doing what we’re meant to be doing.
Below, on the left, is page 2, which is dedicated to the physical school building where teachers work.
The phrase “Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories” sums up the kinds of experiences that occur in those hallowed halls and classrooms on a daily basis, year after year. The background paper is an actual school composition assignment written on yellowed notebook paper from a high school student back in the 1930s. There’s also a vintage photo of a school, a Bingo card, a U.S. history transparency, a scrap of distressed linen, a fortune from a fortune cookie, a piece of broken vintage porcelain that I found earlier this summer on a Lake Michigan beach, and other found words and images trimmed from vintage books. On the right is a mini-page that has been inserted into the book with a piece of linen. It was constructed from an old greeting card someone had sent, expressing condolences to another individual after the death of her mother. This reminded me of my grandfather’s death back in October 2008, when I was teaching in a Milwaukee suburb. The word “distracted” that covers her mouth describes exactly how I felt as I was obligated to teach a full day of classes and conduct an evening of parent/teacher conferences immediately after I’d learned he’d passed away. I remember how excruciatingly difficult it was to pretend in front of the children that nothing was wrong, and I’ve watched my colleagues do the same while grappling with death, divorce, and other profound loss. So often we as teachers continue to work in spite of our personal crises and heartaches, and it requires a tremendous amount of strength to do so.
I am excited to share more of the pages in this teaching-themed altered book in the days and weeks ahead. Thanks for visiting!