Ring seals teacher-student relationship

This Just In...

May 19, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

You remember the good ones. They made their subjects not only interesting, but even compelling -- sometimes even fun. They liked their students, and it showed, day after day, year after year. They were tough, but never mean. In time, you came to trust them with your fears, your problems, your disappointments, your dreams.

This is a good time to consider good teachers. A lot of high school seniors will be doing it in the next couple of weeks, as they step toward graduation.

Then again ... maybe not.

Maybe you can't appreciate a good teacher when you're 18 and as self-centered as you'll ever be in life, anxious to get through high school and far, far away from every adult who's made your existence nothing but difficult. Maybe appreciating good teachers comes with time, when you're looking back and reflecting on the people who injected something positive, even exciting, into your life.

But if you're lucky, the appreciation blossoms right there in front of you, while you're still able to show your gratitude before getting on with the rest of your life.

It seems to be that way for Kerri Crampton, Mikaila Blue, Beth Doetzer, Erin Federline, Stephanie Waskiewicz, Linnea Green, Caroline Griber, Mary Jo Sturgill, Amy Kolodzieski, Julie Mannion and Cristin Serio. They're about to graduate from Mount de Sales Academy in Baltimore County, and what they did for a certain English teacher says a lot about the girls, but even more about the teacher.

I don't know Paula Beliveau -- Mrs. B., her students call her -- and I never sat through one of her classes.

But I'm inclined to believe she's among the good and then memorable because of what 11 seniors did for her.

"She's just a great teacher," says Amy Kolodzieski. "She's one of those teachers that really makes an impact. She taught us well. English wasn't one of my favorite subjects, really, but she made it more understandable for me. And she would listen to you. I played soccer and softball, and she came to our games; that's the kind of person she is. She's a really nice person. She means a lot to us."

Last year, during a junior English class, Beliveau lectured on a novel for which she has a special affinity, Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." As she discussed whaling, Beliveau mentioned her childhood in historic New Bedford, the once thriving whaling port in Massachusetts. She proudly shared some of her knowledge of the whaling industry in New Bedford and, at one point, mentioned an old expression inscribed on a memorial to whalers in her hometown: "A dead whale or a stove boat." (Translation: Kill the whale, or the whale will smash your boat to bits.)

"I wish I had my high school class ring," Beliveau told her students at Mount de Sales.

If she had her class ring, Beliveau added, she could show the students a small replica of the whalers' memorial and its inscription. And the girls could appreciate how intertwined whaling was with the culture of New Bedford.

But there was no ring.

Paula Beliveau never got one.

She was a high school senior in New Bedford in 1955 and her mother, Mary Walsh, was a widowed schoolteacher with three children. She could not afford the ring's $25 cost. She earned only $45 a week at the time. Her youngest daughter, Paula, made as if she didn't want a ring and never bothered Mary Walsh for it.

More than 40 yeares later, Paula (Walsh) Beliveau mentioned this in passing during a class on "Moby Dick" at Mount de Sales Academy.

Her students are good listeners. This year, pondering a gift for their English teacher, they remembered Beliveau's story about the ring.

Kerri Crampton, among other seniors, hatched a plan to get her one. She found a way to have a class ring custom-made and asked classmates to help pay for its cost. They did so, gladly. The ring they obtained wasn't as elaborate as the one Beliveau had described -- no replica of the New Bedford whaling memorial, no "Dead whale or stove boat" inscription -- but it was silver (to match Beliveau's wedding ring), with a green stone (Beliveau's favorite color), some crimson and red (New Bedford High School's colors), the initials, "N.B.H.S." and the year, 1955. The ring features an image of a lamp, symbol for education.

They gave it to Beliveau in her classroom last week.

"I was shocked," Beliveau says.

"She cried," says Amy Kolodzieski.

"Yes, I cried," says Beliveau. "The ring made me think of my mother."

Over the years, Beliveau had thought about the ring she never got in high school every time she taught "Moby Dick." She could have ordered a ring through her alma mater, but didn't, and she's glad for it. The one she wears now carries far more meaning. It's a gift from students lucky enough to appreciate a good teacher and show their gratitude now, before the rest of life takes over.

Pub Date: 5/19/99

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