Monday 22 November 2010


 CNN is taking a poll this week and asking people what makes a great teacher. As America is facing a huge crisis when it comes to their education system, I think in times like these we need to remember how important good teachers truly are, not to mention underrated. I have been lucky enough in my life to have several good teachers. Ones that left their mark in such a way that I still think about them to this day. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a job very well done.

Of course there were many I remember, but some for very bizarre first grade teacher I will always remember for her perfect hair. It was like June Cleaver hair. Not a whisp out of place, and it never seemed to move. To a five year old this seemed very important. Then of course there was the teacher that was always in the bad mood, and you knew she wanted to be doing anything else, and the religion teacher that would tell me I was going to hell in a hand basket for my sins. Thanks for that. 

On the positive side of things, I had two teachers in junior high that truly left their mark. One was equal measure of kindness and sternness, but of course only when she had to be. But more importantly, you could feel how much this teacher cared and how much she loved her job. She would find out what every student in the room excelled at and then accentuate exactly that. Of course she would do it in a way that would make you feel like you weren’t just learning, but you were cultivating an interest, something you could actually become very good at (I know I know, I end my sentences in prepositions, I'm sorry Mrs. K!). Okay, fine, at twelve years old, I didn’t use terms like 'cultivate my interests,' but I discovered in her class that I was good with the written word and I felt that spark of wanting to see where it would take me.

Another teacher I always remember as being tall, commanding and instilled just enough fear in us so that you stayed in line - her praise was much more palatable than her bark. More importantly, she was queen of the projects. She would design these lofty and often complex class projects that would bring into play so many different things, that you didn’t have time to wonder if you could do it or not. You just got on with it. One that comes to mind – it’s a bit hazy I will admit – involved each of us owning land, and on that land we were responsible for the crops, the purchase of our equipment, and the maintenance of all our assets. I just remember thinking at the time that I may not have known exactly how to grow corn or what price to sell it at, but that it beat memorizing pages of the history book....which of course we had to do as well. 1066. Battle of Hastings. It's the only date I can remember pretty much. Which I'm thinking is pretty good considering I can barely remember yesterday's breakfast.

My other favorite teacher was by far the most flamboyant. It was in high school and he, shall we say, was a very unique individual. He was frenetic, slightly manic (looking back on this now of course), and you never quite knew what you were going to get in terms of his mood. I know this sounds alarming, but he channeled his crazy energy into his teaching and that’s where it got interesting. For it was in that class that my writing became something more tangible. He would challenge you with questions and push you to delve deeper. Like the others, he would identify your strengths and then make sure you were aware of them too. I think he was one of the first teachers to appreciate my humor and taught me to infuse my writing with my voice. If you got him to laugh – which was a huge coup – as he was tearing across the classroom in a frenetic whirlwind, he would suddenly shout out HA (!) at the top of his lungs, causing half the students to jump out of their seats. [I found out later he had a nervous breakdown. Explains the manic behavior].

Another teacher I commend purely because he got me through math; something that required a boat load of patience, not to mention humor. When it comes to numbers I have a severe mental block. He had an office near our classroom and a little group of us would hang out in there, drink his coffee, and do anything but discuss math. He would always stroll in, roll his eyes slightly at the state of the place, but secretly you knew that he loved having us there. Or so we told ourselves. And of course, as each one of us would burst in there having a mathematical nervous breakdown, protesting that no grown adult needed to use trig in his or her daily lives, he would quietly and patiently walk us through every step of it until we got it. But as for his coffee, so bad, and no amount of dairy creamer was going to fix that.

So, Mrs. K, Mrs.L, and Mr. S, and Mr. S (again) respectively…thank you! Although Mr. S, I still think math is another form of torture. Let's hear it for calculators!

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