Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Few of My Favorite Things

Remember those teachers you had in high school and middle school (and maybe even elementary school) who shaped you as a person. The ones whose names you can still remember and sometimes you feel yourself transported back to their classroom when someone says "What was that conversion factor?" or "How do you spell that word?" Perhaps I'm stretching the nostalgia a bit too far, but there are teachers that helped you become who you are today. Maybe they nudged you into working a little bit harder so that they could show you just how good you could be. Maybe they encouraged the pants off of you and acted like you were a super-star in the classroom, even though you felt like a loser outside of it. Maybe they just did their job and it was really your desire, passion, and skill that made them so influential. You still remember them though.

Then there were the teachers who made you feel quite insufficient. You just couldn't do good enough. You talked to much, or too little. Maybe they never noticed you, or only noticed you to hand out a punishment or critique. Maybe instead of encouraging you to work harder they told you that "You'd never get any better, so why try?" Maybe they didn't do anything particular and you just sucked at that subject, and they knew it and you knew it. Maybe they were just a bad teacher who couldn't explain anything sufficiently. Their names are forgotten, but their tactics remain.

There are all kinds in every school, all kinds in every child's education. For me the first group, the great teachers, were mostly made up of my Math and Science teachers. After 7th grade I think I could tell you all my Math teachers' names and many of my Science teachers', but I won't bore you with that. Not all of them were extraordinary, but many were. Most of my favorites were non-traditionalists. Mrs. Williams (the only English teacher in the bunch) let us have paper ball fights if we were good; she'd even join in. Mr. Paar would use fishing analogies to teach Algebra. Miss Genie would get so excited about Math she would start jumping up and down, one time she even climbed on top of a desk. Now that I think about it they were all pretty nuts. At the time, sitting in their classrooms, we (the students) would just look around at each other and say "Wow! They're soooo weird." But we loved it. They were passionate about their jobs and they were passionate about helping us learn. We'd have never admitted it back then, but those were our favorite classes. Those are the teachers I want to emulate, not just their crazy behavior but their zeal.
The second group of teachers included most of my English teachers, thus the incessant use of spell check and dictionary.com now-a-days. To ALL my English teachers (and it was pretty much all of them) who said, "You need to work on your writing. It's not very good. Your spelling is atrocious, and there are comma splices every where. Now look at Katie's paper, that's what you should be writing." I am teaching your subject now! How do you feel about that? *Also I would like to take this time to note: my mom thinks I write very well, and has complimented my blog writing skills numerous times. I assure you she is a very unbiased source.* Now I know most of you are thinking (or should be thinking), "What in the world are you doing teaching English if your least favorite subject was English and you still use spell check without default?" And also the question begs to be asked, "Why did you get a degree in 'The English of Tech' when you were at an engineering school in the first place, obviously suck at English, and enjoy Math?" The answer is: Through many random events and strange happenings, but really God only knows. But I loved my major, I'm glad I'm teaching, and I'm ok with the fact that my students catch my spelling mistakes. I was never very good in those English classes because I felt that all they wanted you to do was copy another man's style and pass it off as your own. And for the most part that is exactly what they wanted, and exactly what I refused to do. Thus the conflict, and my inability to get an A in English. These teachers, the ones that stifle and come down hard on you, are the ones I hope I am for no student.

Now comes the idealism, if you haven't already felt it. As a teacher now, looking back on my experiences as a student is hard. The roles are reversed. I see how challenging each day is for the Teacher. I feel the propelling desire to make the biggest difference I can in each student's life. I know the difficulty of meeting challenges with patience and quick solutions, however many it takes to find the right one. I come home in the afternoon with a headache and a hounding question, "Did I make a difference?" I hope that at some point, while I am a teacher, I can answer that question with an unequivocal "Yes." But for now, all I can tell you unequivocally is that the students make a difference in my life every day, my fellow teachers make a difference in my life every day. That for me is enough right now. That for me is everything I need to know. No matter how much I give it will never be enough to return what I have received. One day though, I'll be able to answer my question with a "Yes" and on that day I'll be jumping up and down in the streets (or maybe I'll just climb on top of a desk).