Think back to when you were still in school. Do you remember your best teachers? What was it about them that made your school experience better? Your future life better? There are three teachers that come to mind for me when I look back on my childhood, and every one influenced who I am today.
The first one was Sister M.G., who was my second grade teacher after my parents moved to a new town in the middle of the school year. Not only did I have to deal with a new home in a strange town, but this shy little girl had to make new friends in a brand new school. Sister M.G., in her quiet, gentle voice, helped me navigate all the scary things, from new books, to new friends, to new building. I had a lot of catching up to do too, and she patiently took the extra time needed in order to make sure that I didn’t fall behind. Sister left an impression on me on how good teachers not only teach – they love.
The second one was Mr. K, my high school social studies teacher. Mr. K was crazy. Not the crazy in a weird, psycho kind of way, but the “I’m-so-passionate-about-how-exciting-history-is-that-I don’t-care-if-people-stare” kind of crazy. When I was in his class, history came alive, leaping from the dusty textbooks right into my imagination. As Mr. K jumped upon his desk, the people of the past became real as he acted out the battles between the Visigoths and the Romans, the anguish of the pilgrims as they left their families behind to sail to the New World, and the hushed secret meetings as American colonists planned a risky Revolution for freedom. Mr. K. left an impression on me on how learning consists of more than just reading words on a page – it is an embrace of life, both past and present, good and bad, in order apply wisdom to my own path.
The third one was Mrs. B, my AP English teacher, and I hated her guts. She was a former college professor, who wanted to return to a place where she felts kids were still obligated to learn: high school. She was tough, with high expectations, and did not put up with any shenanigans. If you didn’t follow instructions, your grade got docked. If you weren’t able to spell words correctly or used poor grammar, your grade got docked (and kids, back then the only spellchecker that existed was you and a thick Oxford Dictionary). And if any, and I mean ANY, of your work was not your own, you flunked. No retests. No do overs. Not even grading on a curve. You sank or swam on your own. In her mind she was preparing us for real life. By the end of the year 1/3 of our class had dropped out. Another 1/3 called her bad words behind her back. And the rest, like me, just tried our best to survive. I squeaked by with barely a “B-“, the lowest grade on my transcript for the year. I was devastated. At least I was until I took the required writing portion of my college entrance exam. Not only did I do well, but I tested completely out of their 6 credit hour English requirement to graduate. It was at that moment that Mrs. B left her impression on me – I realized that her having high expectations for students wasn’t being mean, but just a different kind of love. Tough love.
Good teachers are the ones that turn learning a joy instead of a burden for students and parents. And like most professions, it is important that we celebrate and reward those that do their jobs well, because their success not only affects them, it affects our children. Likewise, we need to be able to remove those teachers who are not doing their job well, and for the very same reason, as it not only affects them, but it affects our children. Not everyone’s first job choice ends up being their best job choice you know, and this includes teaching. We do our children, families & all teachers (good and bad), a disservice if we do not ensure that only those with the real gift of teaching are the ones standing before our students. Failure to do this is not only unprofessional and demoralizing to those good teachers that we do have, it is demoralizing to our students and inhibits actual learning. Think back to when you had a bad teacher – isn’t that just how you felt when in his or her class?
The only dividends my past great teachers will ever receive are the success of their students, including me. The love for their craft, their desire to pour into the children in their care, their ability to get to that “ah ha” moment, were not skills learned from teacher in service days, mentors, or more training, but an ability that came from their very core. Great teachers don’t enter the profession for summers off, because great teachers understand that they never will actually get a summer off. They will always be searching for more ways on how to best build up their main investment: our kids.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward (1921-1994) author of Fountains of Faith