I can remember the names of all the core classroom teachers I had K-12. (My husband jokes that I have a mind like a steel trap.) Some of them are a name and a face and a funny comment, like Mrs. Hospelhorn whose inscription in my sixth grade yearbook still makes me grin. Some are a name and a boring assignment – really Mr. Rice, did I need to know the names of all 88 counties in Ohio and the 14 townships in our county? I can’t think of one time I’ve used that bit of info since the test in 7th grade. Others left much greater impressions.
Yesterday I wrote about three not so fond memories of education, so today, the first day of National Education Week, I want to write about those teachers who made a difference in a positive way.
I have to start with Mrs. Dean, my 1st and 2nd grade teacher. She is the reason I teach. I wanted to be like her almost from day one. She was fair and consistent. She encouraged my reading, never holding me back when I needed to go further faster. I would often run into her in later years, and she was always genuinely glad to see me.
Then there was Mrs. Wilson, 7th grade English. She was the one we were all warned about; old and mean and rarely gave an A to anyone. What I discovered was that she was tough. You had to work hard, but she was fair. I still have my essay on Rime of the Ancient Mariner and at the top was the elusive A and a well-thought out comment from Mrs. Wilson. Her praise was rare, but you knew she meant it.
Mrs. Cone taught Algebra I. Her first year teaching was my freshman year, and for some reason I really connected with her. I only had her for the one class, but she was a mentor throughout high school and beyond. Her well-timed phone calls and notes during my freshman year of college were just the support I needed.
Mr. Hoovler was the teacher for all my other math courses. I can still hear him saying, “There’s nothing more atrocious than a Geometry student who can’t spell Geometry,” and we were writing essays in math long before the experts told us literacy occurred in all subjects. He played classical music very softly, all day long. He taught us the mathematical strategies behind chess. He showed us ways that we really would use what he was teaching us sometime in the future.
Mr. Wiederhold taught Chemistry. His enthusiasm for the content as well as for teaching was contagious. I always worked through things because I didn’t want to disappoint him. His class was also a safe place to question things, even those that didn’t have anything to do with Chemistry. When we were annoyed about the latest restrictions put in place by an overzealous principal, he’d listen without judging.
Mrs. Lady taught English. Like Mrs. Wilson in middle school, Mrs. Lady was not known for over-inflating grades. Returned papers were covered with commentary. She didn’t correct your grammar – she expected you to do that. She asked questions, she pointed out weak arguments, and she praised good writing. She also knew me well enough to ask what was bothering me when I turned in a sub-par essay. I had written it right after finding out my grandfather had cancer.
Did they understand the impact they had? I don’t know. Was it natural talent or learned behavior? I can’t answer that either. What I do know is that each one of these teachers effected how I saw myself. Their words of encouragement, as well as their constructive criticism, helped mold me as a learner and a person, and influenced the way I teach.