Thursday, March 31, 2011

That special teacher . . .

There are so many topics that I could blog about, but I want teachers and others to read this short op ed piece from the New York Times by Marie Myung-Ok Lee author and writing teacher at Brown. I first learned about it from Larry Ferlazzo’s websites of the day.

She shares the influence that two high school teachers had on her and questions whether this is possible in today’s world of high stakes testing and focused curriculum.  A teacher's influence is so much more as she shares in her brief story.

I can now appreciate how much courage it must have taken for those teachers to let me deviate so broadly from the lesson plan. With today’s pressure on teachers to “teach to the test,” I wonder if any would or could take the time to coax out the potential in a single, shy student.

If we want to understand how much teachers are worth, we should remember how much we were formed by our own schooldays. Good teaching helps make productive and fully realized adults — a result that won’t show up in each semester’s test scores and statistics.

How true. For me it was two PE teachers and coaches at Olympic Junior High who influenced me in significantly different ways. It will be no surprise that I was short, but I was also a good athlete. I sometimes let my stature get in the way of my potential, easily convincing myself that my size would inhibit success. Mr. Moliter was always there with words of encouragement that gave me confidence and assisted me in focusing on my talent and possibilities. Thinking now about this, I think he actually had an avenue into my self talk as he seemed to always have the right words when I needed them.

Mr. Carr, on the other hand, did just the opposite. He pushed and pushed and pushed, never letting me get away with anything. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it to the point of disliking him as a teacher. Today, I realize that I can trace some of my competitiveness and perseverance to his influence. I am saddened that I have not taken the initiative yet to let them know this.

I didn’t have the same experiences at Auburn High School. I did ok, but know that I could have done better and participated much more. I believe that it would have been different if I had these two teachers pushing and supporting me. THANK YOU!

Yes, even in today's high stakes world teachers do this every day.  What we need to discover is how to ensure that every young person has these experiences multiple times in our classrooms.


Stacy said...

Interestingly enough, my teacher that pushed and pushed, actually drove me away from something that I loved. I would most likely have been on Broadway, had his pushing to for perfection not gotten in the way. Today, I rarely sing or act, unless in front of my own children, or on an even rarer occasion in class. We teachers, are in essence magicians, never having the same trick up our sleeve. What could motivate one child, could easily damage another. What works for one child, will not work for all. I look back and remember the ones that understood their impact and made learning, shall I say it, FUN! They took the "curriculum" and made it interesting and enjoyable. I hope my English teacher would be proud of me.

Scott Mitchell said...

Great post. In our profession we have a unique opportunity to take each day as it comes to us and decide what we will do for children to help shape their education. Some days it is giving the tough love to the student that is not motivated and the next day you may be giving the same student that emotional support that will make them feel safe and cared for. The truth is we are responsible for making a difference which reminds me of a stand up video by Taylor Mali.

My dad was a major teaching influence in my music career and I come from a long line of family in education with me being 1 of the 32 that chose this as a profession. My two greatest influences to me in my educational journey were Mr. Murphy and Professor Yahkusake. In 9th grade, I failed geometry and in 10th grade I took it again. Mr. Murphy was my 10th grade geometry teacher. He made every angle, proof, and area model relevant and fun. He made me want to be in class to learn something I really did not enjoy. He took the time to stop and help, to answer the questions, and to make sure that we really understood the concepts, not just that he got through the book at the end by the end of the year for the test.

Then in college, I had Professor Yakusake. Due to my original plan for future employment in music, my basic and breadth courses were to be spread out over the 4 years, rather than doing most in your first two years. So when I changed course to go into elementary teaching I had a lot of basic courses to complete (in what turned out to be my 4th and 5th years). Professor Yakusake was my teacher for English 102 in my senior year (5th). There I was with freshman, great times. So to make this short, I was great at quizzes, great at discussions, did the reading, did the assignments, but was a terrible writer. So after the first 3 weeks, I was getting a B in the class; A's on everything except D's on my papers. So she pulled me up after class and said these words which I will never forget. "Mr. Mitchell, you are smart, you do so well on discussions, you are the only one probably reading the material, but you cannot write worth $@^". She told me to come up to her office on the next day and she would work with me. I spent 5 hours on a Saturday with her and that 5 hours changed my writing forever. It was the extra time that she took to show me structure, how to organize your ideas, etc. that changed everything.

These two people took the something they saw in me and encouraged me to make a change, made me feel I could do it, and took the time to care for me, as a student.

Teaching to the test is not going to cut it. We need to not lose track of where we can go, what we can achieve, and how we can motivate these kids. Not to be test takers though but to be successful educated young people that we can send out to the world.

Sorry I rambled but the truth is we need to share these stories, so thank you Mike for sharing yours.

Jeff Colosimo said...

It amazes me the kinds of pressure teachers are under to “make the grade.” There is so such red tape, that we forget that we are dealing with human beings. We have to cultivate an environment where shared learning can occur. Engagement is critical to the success of human beings, which is also made possible by shared learning.