Honoring Our Teachers
by James Mauch of Lewisburg, PA
All of us are teachers. We can’t help but teach others through our words, actions, and by example. I work with undergraduate, graduate, and returning adult students seeking to become professionally licensed teachers, so I am intimately acquainted with the path one needs to take to become a practicing teacher licensed by the state of Pennsylvania. I spend the majority of my time teaching my students about content, pedagogy, educational technology, effective lesson planning, assessment, regulations, No Child Left Behind legislation, and an increasingly complex myriad of skills and abilities that new teachers are expected to demonstrate in the twenty-first century classroom. I also devote an important, but seemingly ever diminishing, amount of time to discussing with my students the (to me) more important aspects of the profession: a love of subject, a love of teaching, compassion for students, the importance of instilling within our students a love for pursuing knowledge, and the importance of a literate democratic society not afraid to question. Often, our discussions lead us to several related philosophical questions: What makes a great teacher? Do great teachers somehow possess some innate abilities, or can the characteristics of great teaching be learned?
I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. I do, however, believe that one attribute that makes someone a great teacher is his or her ability to help us along our paths to becoming self-reliant and independent. Elementary school teachers (and our parents) help us to learn our letters and numbers, helping us along the path to become independent readers, thinkers, and problem solvers. Middle school and high school teachers help us to learn about science, history, mathematics and other subjects, helping us along the path to become independent learners and just plain independent by giving us the skills we need to secure a job. I also believe that graduation from a four-year institution with a degree in education does not automatically make for a great, or even good, classroom teacher, nor is the converse true – that the only great teachers out there are the ones that never went to school to learn how to become one. I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.
I was introduced to the work of Eric Sloane (Connecticut, 1905-1985) through my grandfather, Alfred Erwin. My grandfather owned several books by Sloane, and thought highly of Sloane’s ability to document the architecture and material culture of the early American. I readily recognized within Eric’s books his reverence for the early American landscape and the spirit, individualism, and “doing for oneself” exhibited by most Americans – the same attributes exhibited by my grandfather, though I would also add kindness, generosity, patience, and love.
Born to a wealthy New York family in 1905, Eric’s real name was Everard Jean Hinrichs. His adolescent years likely appeared carefree to outside observers – private tutors, a brief stint at a Bordentown (New Jersey) military school, and summers at the family place on Lake Hopatcong (New Jersey). Sloane credited two neighbors – illustrator Herman Roundtree and typeface designer Fred Goudy – with inspiring him to begin to consider art as a vocation. Sloane convinced his father to send him first to the Art Student’s League of New York City, then to the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, then to Yale to continue the formal study of art. Sloane experienced academic failure at all three institutions, though he did credit his time at the Art Student’s League with inspiring him to change his name to “Eric Sloane.” While a student with the Art Student’s League in the early 1920’s, Eric overheard a conversation between two teachers, George Luks and John Sloan, in which they extolled the virtues of painting under an assumed name until such time that a painter was satisfied with his work, then switching to his given name. The idea was that a successful artist would not be haunted by earlier, and presumably inferior, works of art. Eric later wrote that he intended only to borrow Sloan’s last name (adding an e “just to be different”), but he was known as “Eric Sloane” throughout his career.
Between 1922 and 1925, Eric’s world began to unravel. His mother died in November of 1922, and his father ordered his aunt to leave the house. Arguments between Eric and his father intensified. Older brother George moved out of the house to begin a landscaping business, and sister Dorothy later described the Hinrichs household as taking on an “unstable atmosphere” at the time. In an attempt to bring order to the household, the elder Hinrichs hired and fired a succession of household servants – the last one, however, he thought fit to marry after six months of employment. For Eric’s part, he began to leave the house for longer and longer periods of time, making his way across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well as making brief forays into the New England states. By 1925, however, Eric packed his bags and left the Hinrichs home for the last time.