Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why Teaching Matters: What's the Square Root of Inspiration? Part 5

Did she try to kill that boy or didn't she?
What do students really remember about teachers
who made a difference?

Well, we're ten years into the Age of the Testing Fix in this country, when standardizing education was supposed to make everything better. So, where do we stand? With billions spent and millions of hours wasted preparing for and taking standardized tests, we're pretty much in the same place where we first began.
It isn't always the diet plan or the diet planner that matters. 

More often than not, it's the dieter's motivation.
So, I've been asking former students to comment on teachers who made a difference in their lives, mostly in the years before testing became a mania. 

Let's start with Joey Caylor Spencer.  She remembers Mrs. Henderson, the middle school and high school choir director:  "I loved Mrs Henderson. She didn't let me get away with just singing in choir, she made me learn how to read music. She doesn't get the credit she deserves for all she did to make kids feel special."

Elaina Wolff Strub agreed:

Not to discount other teachers, but Mrs. Henderson stands alone in my experience. (Mr. Viall, you stand out too, but more for the um, ahem, incident in class...). Now that I am a teacher myself, I realize how dedicated Marge was to all of us. It takes A LOT of time to do the job just as it needs to be done, but she ALWAYS went above and beyond. I can't even imagine how much of her life she spent working and preparing for work, much less on all the extra activities that came along with Show Choir and such. She was so clearly passionate about her subject and a major player in my teenage years... (this coming from a reformed choir nerd, of course.)
If you've been reading this series of posts, you know what I've been saying.  You can't measure what a choir teacher is doing and the degree to which good teachers, like Mrs. Henderson, shape lives. 

You can't do it.

In a brief posting, Jacquelyn Pohl, a recent Loveland graduate, harkened back to her earliest days in school to find a teacher who really mattered:  "Believe it or not my first grade teacher Mrs. Hoppe was so encouraging and inspirational. I would always talk with her growing up to[o]... she was a great mentor with a lot of insight."

Insight?  Is this going to be on the standardized test?  (God, we're letting the fools run American education today. Sorry:  had to get that out of my system.)

Tami Barnett posted a brief tribute to two elementary teachers (and I know from working with Mrs. Lundy in the higher grades later, that Ms. Barnett is right):  "i was blessed to have mrs. lundy for 1st and 3rd grade...she was amazing!  and having mr atkins for 2nd was a treat too. i was pushed to challenge myself and appreciate them for it!"

Andrew Grote and Mike Smyth had fond memories of my class.  But I mean this series as a tribute to other Loveland teachers--and there are many excellent ones so far not mentioned--and to hundreds of thousands of educators who are out there working hard every day all across the country. 

So here's what Andrew says about Mr. Ball, Mr. Friedmann and Mr. Zinnecker:

I can comment on teachers that made a difference to me. 4 to be exact...Not one of these guys taught the same subject. But they all had one thing in common. They never pushed me to conform with the way everyone else learned things. The each sat back and realized that I saw the world differently. And they used that knowledge to allow me to learn to my potential. To many teachers, especially these days, seem to teach more toward passing tests, than learning. I learned different aspects of life from these 4 gentleman, things I share with others everyday...Mr Ball opened the door to computers and math, that I never even knew I liked. Mr. Friedmann help me realize, not everyone speaks english...I now speak 6 languages. And Mr. Zinnecker helped me realize, that no matter how creative, or obscure, or off the wall I make things, someone out there will enjoy it. All these things still stay true today, and have molded me into the person I am.

Sam Demmerle also chose to salute a number of fine professionals:

My junior year of high school Mrs. Bosse [showed us] how to write a good paper. To this day, I still believe she taught me the tools and techniques to write analytically and the proper way to close-read a text. She is a fascinating educator and [I] loved the discussions she would direct in class. She inspired me to be an English major. I remember how she challenged my thesis on my literary analysis of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" and instead of changing my idea, I pushed myself to prove her wrong and I got a 198/200 (I lost points for grammar mistakes) on the final draft. If I had listened to her suggestion, I wouldn't be such an opinionated writer/analyst now.

I would continue to list every teacher who has ever made an impact on me (you Mr. Viall, Ms. Weill [now Mrs. Chast], Mrs. Jamison, Mr. Schmidt, Mr. Lail, Mr. Maegly, etc.) but the list would be quite lengthy for a Facebook comment.

Matt Mouser, who posted earlier this week, posted again and mentioned the kind of subtle touch that made one teacher memorable:  "At the end of the 6th grade year Mrs. Emden made me a bookmark that said "Matt, To my champion joke teller. Have a great summer and always do your best!". She was probably the nicest teacher I ever had."

For today the final words go to Shawn Richardson, who weighed in exactly the way I thought most students would. You see, real young men and women, who sit in real classrooms all across this land, they know that what matters in education goes far beyond simple testing. Shawn reports that three of his ex-coaches have turned into "great friends," Mike Rich, Dave Evans and Denny Johnson. "All have been to my house to play cards, we go golfing, go out of town to sporting events, [and they] come to my wedding and just flat out care on how I'm doing and are there if I need them."

He's talking about "teachers that stay in 1 community for 30 years even if they didn't go to high school there [and] were so committed to the schools and the students that they live there[,] that is what makes a teacher."

How do you measure all that teachers actually do?

P. S.:   A brief note about that "incident" Elaina mentions. In eighth grade she piled a tall stack of her books atop her desk one day, before class started, and the weight (she was a good student and so carrying some serious baggage) tipped it as suddenly as a trap door sprung on a gallows.

Unfortunately, the front edge of the top struck a young man (who if memory serves was trying to flirt with her) directly in the shin. At first we thought it might have broken his leg; but once it became clear he was fine, Elaina seemed mortified.  So, to make her feel better I began accusing her of trying to assassinate the poor fellow.

1 comment:

  1. Elaina Wolff StrubJanuary 15, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    I believe you said I was "cow tipping!" :)