What My Teachers Taught Me

(And How They Affect Your Teaching)

Image0000065AIt’s funny the things we remember from school over the years. As teachers we need to remember the lasting impact we have on our students. It affects how they deal with teachers and administrators when they have children. It also affects how they deal with education policy issues when voting on referendums and elections. We need to remember that every student matters.

I started kindergarten in 1971, when it was optional and only a half-day. I graduated from high school in 1984 from Putnam City High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I want to share with you a few of the things I remember from 30+ years ago of my time in public education and what those events taught me.

My earliest memory is playing post office in kindergarten. Learning how the post office works and such. I remember talking about being nice to others, being courteous, and working with others to accomplish a task. I recall playing with others too. Which is what kindergarten should still be all about.

I remember Valentine’s Day in 1st grade. Mrs. Dill had told us to color hearts and I colored mine black. I don’t know why. I just thought it was a cool color. But I saw everyone around me coloring them pink and red and nice colors like that. I realized I had picked an off-color. I didn’t put my name on it and turned it in. A day or two later she told us to go get them off a back table. No one was absent that day and yet when I picked mine up there were two left on the table. To this day, I feel like she saw what happened and colored one of her own and put it on that table. Over the years, the more I’ve thought about that incident, the more I am sure she saw the whole thing and she taught me a lot about compassion with that one move.

I recall making fun of a girl who had poor skin condition with my friends. That was around 2nd grade. I regret that. I feel horrible for doing it to that girl. She couldn’t help it and I just added to it. I recall getting into a fight that I didn’t want on my way home. I must have been in about 2nd grade as well. My older brother and I were walking home and this kid kept making fun of me; kept saying he could beat me up. So we started fighting. It ended up with me on top of him, his arms stuck under my legs and me with my fist raised and kids telling me to punch him. I let him go. I was very small but could move. I felt bad for him and thought I had already done enough. We need to remember that students engage with each other and have lives outside of our classes. They make good choices and they make bad choices. We are just part of their lives, not the center of it.

I remember my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Fulls. She was mean. I once wrote that a certain girl in the class was “beutiful” on the chalkboard. She came in and she had us all write the word “beautiful”. She then found out it was me and commenced to embarrass me. Later, she also gave me five paddlings because I failed to complete five homework assignments for her class on the same day. She taught me that a mean teacher can further exacerbate a student’s sense of failure and discourage him from doing anything. A good teacher can get a poor student to do things beyond what they thought.

Image0000090AAs I got older, life got rougher as it can do in the pre-teen years of junior high. I recall Mr. Wentroth (now Dr.), my 9th grade physical science teacher. I had moved to a new school and he was awesome. My parents had divorced the year before and Mr. Wentroth really just kind of…understood what it was to be a boy in school with a lot of energy. I remember paper ball  fights and sword fights using pointers. His class was one I looked forward to everyday. Even if it was science. He taught me humor and how teachers can be fun. He enjoyed his job*.

In high school, I remember taking Accounting I. I was horrible at it. H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. But I really liked it. I thought it was cool because it involved a huge project that entailed real-world applications. I wanted to take Accounting II. I told Mrs. Tate that I had signed up for Accounting II. She was honest enough to tell me that while she liked having me in class, she did not think I should take Accounting II as it was much more difficult than Accounting I. So I went back and signed up for another class. She taught me honesty and compassion.

I remember a substitute teacher that I had a few times. It was a hot day and we had no air conditioning in the rooms back then as I recall. She walked out of the classroom for some reason and some students opened the windows to get cool. I don’t recall the exact sequence of events. But when she walked back in, she accused several students of doing it to include me. One by one students started walking out of class. I decided to follow their lead and walked out. I ended up with three days of either in-school-suspension or detention with the vice-principal. I can’t remember which it was. She taught me not to accuse a student without undeniable evidence, to give students the benefit of the doubt as much as you can.

Image0000089AI remember Mrs. Ferguson who taught Speech & Debate. I took about three or four of her classes to include a study hall. I remember turning in a debate brief to her. It was some advantage brief for that year’s resolution. I don’t recall the specifics. But I just remember that she kept returning it to me because it did not meet her standards. By the time it did, I remember thinking that it was awesome and I felt so proud of myself. She taught me high standards and making students feel confident and proud of their work.

These are a few of the memories I have with teachers. The important thing we need to remember is that every interaction we have with students has the possibility to leave a very long-lasting impression that the student will remember 30 or 40 years later. As far greater people have said before me, every student matters. And those impressions and recollections impact how they deal with the schools, teachers, and administrators who deal with their own children. It also impacts what they believe about education policy. We are our own worst enemies and our best advocates. But it’s up to us.

What are your memories and how have they affected the kind of teacher you are?

*Later, I had him in 12th grade physiology when he moved up to the high school. Again, he just understood me. I really looked up to him and while I don’t recall any specific event, I just remember I enjoyed being in his class.

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