Lessons in Learning

When I was teaching, May was one of my favorite times of year. It’s when there was a short breather before sprinting to the finish line and wrapping up the year with a big bright bow. It was right after spring break when we were assessing our students, taking pleasure in their progress. It was also when Teacher Appreciation Week took place and still does. This week was always special, but for me, it wasn’t about the need to be appreciated. It was about the kinship I felt with my fellow teachers and the pride I felt for our profession.

It’s easy to recall the teachers who have meant so much to me. I wrote about Mr. Carman, my 5th grade teacher in my “Words on Folded Pages” post. I still consider him my favorite. Why? He was fresh out of college and taught in a completely different way. We were used to traditional classrooms where we sat quietly in rows facing the front, and only spoke when called on. Mr. Carman allowed us to sit in circles, move around, and talk freely about everything under the sun! He turned our learning experience on its head…in a good way.

Of course, there were other teachers I adored. The ones who played to my strengths, who complimented my efforts, and who maybe nudged my grade up just a skosh for giving it my all.

From my journal: May 12, 1999 Fountain Hills, Arizona

“He said my lesson was “masterful”!  So relieved…I worked hard putting that science lesson together.”

Yes, I still fondly remember Professor Rillero who taught Science Methods in my Post-Bac program. However, there are other instructors I can picture, too. Ones who were tough, who made me cry, and who also had a real impact on my life.

Mr. Jacoby was my 7th grade Social Studies teacher. My goal in his class, as in any class, was to get an A. But that didn’t happen.  I aced the exams and assignments, but I fell short due to class participation.  Not that I didn’t raise my hand to answer questions, but when he called on me and I began to answer, more times than not, he would shake his head, then call on the next person.

Then, there was Mrs. Anderson, my 10th grade Biology teacher. Though kind, when I raised my hand to ask questions, she’d motion for me to put it down.

And Mr. Curley, my 11th grade math instructor.  I loved being in his other classes, but that year we were learning Advanced Calculus. When he’d pass back a test with a concerned look on his face, I’d flinch.

My high school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

So there I was, a kid at odds with adults who were in a position of authority. I was raised to respect any person in that role, so I felt stuck. What could I do? The only thing I could think of was to go to someone who would listen and sympathize with me. That would be Mom. 

After enough crying and feeling sorry for myself, inevitably she would tell me to do what all good parents tell their children to do…. go talk to the teacher. 

Did Mr. Jacoby really think I was incapable of coming up with correct answers?  Was Mrs. Anderson tired of my unending questions?  And did Mr. Curley not see how hard I was trying? 

Only with time and experience did I come to understand the lessons being offered.  Mr. Jacoby wanted me to take credit for my answers by speaking louder so everyone could hear. Mrs. Anderson wanted me to discover answers and own my aha moments.  And Mr. Curley.  He wanted me to realize that I needed help and to ask for it.  Oh and my mom, my first true teacher, she wanted me to take responsibility and stand up for myself.

Teachers are people foremost, and no two are exactly alike. Teachers want their students to succeed, but they may take unconventional paths to get them there. Teachers not only impart knowledge related to content, but about life, too. We may not always agree with, connect with, or even like some of our teachers along the way, but the lessons we can learn from them, may be just as valuable.

My first year teaching 1st grade!

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