Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why Teaching Matters: What's the Square Root of Inspiration? Part 2

Lindsay Moore, right, in fire gear.
Some kids grow up wanting to be firemen
(or fire ladies).
Teachers try to prepare students
for whatever life might bring.
IF YOU READ MY LAST BLOG POST (and all across America, people are asking themselves, "Who didn't?) you know what this post is going to be about.

Teachers who make a difference

I'm retired now; but I truly believe that the education "experts" are going to cut the heart out of our schools with a monomaniacal focus on standardized testing.

I don't believe you can measure what good teachers do with testing. So I asked former students on Facebook to comment, to tell me about educators who made a impact in their lives. Here are some of their responses.

Emily Lloyd checked in to offer a bit of praise for a favorite high school teacher: "Ken Zinnecker all the way! I had him for Creative Writing and Fantasy/Sci-Fi. He's the man :D" Three other former students, Wendy-Kidd Yockey, Erin Parkinson Betz and Brandon Huber, "liked" her post and in a Facebook world that's like three more votes for Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucases.

(Unless you don't like Mitt Romney.)

Dwane Shelly had his own nomination and tried to explain the essence of what he thought made good teachers good: 
They don't give up on the student....they use their life experience and savvy to figure out what makes the student "tick"....then exploits what he/she can to drive that student to performing their very best. Mr. Poe did that for me. As a consequence...I have always sought to do my best and be a problem solver. Sometimes teachers don't really know how much they affect the lives of their students in ways that last a lifetime. Kudos to all my teachers that gave a damn.
Lori Chisman Barber (a star student from time past) went back to junior high days and added her ideas to discussion:
‎1st off- I can't name just one teacher. I loved school and loved a lot of my teachers. Other than you- I would say: Mr Huffmaster. He taught me it was ok to learn about the Big Bang theory and other theories of creation even though my parents didn't like it one little bit. He said as a scientist he not only knew all of the theories but he also knew the Book of Genesis very well. He said "If you don't understand scientific theories of creation how can you ever refute them if you only know the book of Genesis?" He also taught me it was pretty cool to be VERY different and not care what others think- because he was that way. I remember his teachings to this day because he was so unusual.

Lindsay Moore remembered a high school government teacher, not for the facts he taught but for the fashion in which he made clear what those facts meant:
Mr. Volkman inspired me on so many levels. He changed my views on the potential and greatness of our country. Listening to him speak so passionately about government (at least how a government should be) got me out of my pessimistic ways of thinking, not just about our country as a whole but for people in general. I realized I'd rather be an idealist who gets disappointed sometimes rather than a pessimist who's constantly proven right. I'd rather stand up for the uncommon good morality and be laughed at than hide behind the superficial surface of our bubble and be generally accepted :)
P.S. On our way back from the senior trip to DC, Mr. Volkman got on the loud speaker and made a speech about everything the city stands for and what it means to him. Every single person on the bus fell silent as he spoke from his heart and even choked up a little. It was an amazing moment to witness someone, much less our teacher, be so pure and honest with us.

Really. You can't measure that, even if you decide to batter students with standardized tests into the next century. But students know what counts and Sarah Jackson, Abby Hoff and Valerie Daugherty agreed with Ms. Moore's assessment.

After I messaged her and asked for details, Emily Lloyd returned and had this to add about Mr. Zinnecker:
The most important piece of knowledge that Mr. Zinnecker gave me when it came to writing was to throw any kind of cliche out the window. Common cliches including "it's raining cats and dogs" and "as dead as a door nail" were not welcome. Mr. Z's response to the door nail cliche was, "What the Hell is a door nail anyway?" :P

Ms. Jackson (presently doing her own student teaching) chimed in with her take on educators who made a difference:
I couldn't agree with Lindsay more! Mr. Volkman changed my whole way of thinking about the government. He is one of the reasons I decided to teach :) he treated us seniors like adults in his class and I will never forget when he handed out our constitutions he played patriotic music and shook each and everyone of our hands. He opened my eyes to government and made me think. I also respected him for the sheer fact that he was and still is a solider who as if right now is deployed? I could be wrong but you should definitely include Mr. Dave Volkman into your blog :)

Chelsea Olivia joined in the discussion and nominated one of the best teachers I ever saw in my 33 years in education. She noted:  "my favorite teachers[,] I absolutely loved Mr. Ball and thank him for teaching the class that made me a computer geek, because of him I am able to be in front of any computer for ten minutes and be able to tell you anything that you need to know. I still occasionally see him when he comes to eat at my work."

Lisa Brown had only a few words to say, but her comment was excellent:  "Seventh grade english, Mrs. Puls. She taught the students to stand up and be heard. Not to be afraid to speak in groups. Let your opinions be heard."

Brandon Beck, a junior at Ohio State, entered the fray:
Mr Zinnecker from LHS was one of the best teachers ive had to this day. One of the most down to Earth teachers ive had, and he actually teaches you lessons you will use every day of your life, instead of just making you memorize facts you will forgot once the class is over.The best advice he gave me, and some of the best advice i've ever received to this day was when he told the class: "if theres one thing I can teach you, it's to do something that you love." I use his advice daily.

Jennifer Szczepek-Prokosa agreed:
Mr. Zinnecker. Other than being an awesome fantasy / sci-fi/ English teacher, he really cared. I went through some tough times at home my high school years and he was the only teacher I ever had that came to me concerned. He said he could see that something was wrong. I don't think he'll ever know how his concern helped me. It was nice to have a teacher to talk to.

So, you see, education isn't really about standardized testing. What matters most is the long-term effect we have in the classroom on the kids who come our way. Former students in every district in the land could tell you there are all kinds of educators out there, changing lives in immeasurable and important ways every day.
YET, WE RARELY HEAR ANYTHING about teachers these days, unless it's negative.

I still have plenty of examples left; but I'll end with something Glenn Hughes said. "Back in the day," Glenn wasn't always the best student, as he would freely admit. But I had him for history, and I could always tell he had a good brain. At Loveland Middle School one year we took fourteen students who struggled the previous year and set up a special program (known as SPARK) to see if we couldn't help them. 

We hired a veteran administrator, teacher and coach out of retirement, Mr. Stan McCoy Sr., and put him in overall charge. Then three dedicated young female teachers (and yours truly) went into their room every day and taught the four main subjects. (Those three women:  Ms. Cindy Taylor, Ms. Jennifer Windau and Mrs. Karen Gowetski, later Karen Clary.)

Watching Mr. McCoy was an inspiration--and he never let those fourteen kids forget they had real talent. The year before their grades were...well, let's just say they weren't good. But this time was different. The three young teachers helped get those fourteen teens rolling. (At least one boy kept asking Ms. Taylor to marry him.) I did my part, too. One day, I made the SPARK group a bet. I said I thought they were as smart as any class I had, they just hadn't always used their talents before. So, if they could all earn A's or B's on the next history test, I said I'd run to school from my house.
How far, they wanted to know? Fourteen miles. 
Mr. Hughes went on to study
at the University of Cincinnati.
(Mr. McCoy could see his potential.)
Lord have mercy! Those kids buckled down and started studying and Mr. McCoy encouraged them every way he could. The day of the test thirteen kids were present and when I graded results we had thirteen A's and B's. But one young man was absent; so we had to wait a day, and when he took the test, and earned another B, the room erupted in cheers.  I'm not sure I've ever been prouder of a group of kids in my life, and I know Mr. McCoy felt the same way. 
With the help of one old football coach, and three fine young women, and maybe even me, the SPARK class kicked some academic butt that year. And Glenn (and Doug Conwell, who "liked" his comment later) have not forgotten, decades later.

With that, I'll let Mr. Hughes have the final say: 
Mr. McCoy - I think i speak for most in the SPARKS class Mark Jones Doug Conwell Stefan Talley He was a wonderful mentor that always had our back and taught us even though so many teachers had given up on us (for good reason) He would stand beside us. We all worked in every subject during that year just because we wanted to show him how much his dedication meant to us. I believe most of the class stayed honor role that year. Not bad for a bunch of misfits and clowns! Although you were the biggest clown in class that year! See you can get in this one!


  1. Awesome....thank you!

  2. Being a teacher is so rewarding, especially if you can help a person find the career that they can love and enjoy. You value education so much that you've spent your whole life teaching these students. :-)