I was reading about corporate educational reform in the middle of the night, as usual, when a contributor challenged readers to recognize the teachers who made a difference in their lives as a reminder of how many great teachers there are out there. I thought that was a good idea since the rich and the powerful are trying to ensure that those kinds of teachers become extinct- to be replaced by the ones that keep everyone quiet preparing kids for unethical, invalid, poorly written tests that will judge their worth- both child and teacher. So, here’s a few:
Mr. Kastelic- changed the way I think about the world and for some reason, saw me as someone who could change it; I am the teacher I am today because of him. (11th grade American history, student taught for him 6 years later, mentored by him for years after that) RIP
Mr. Hawk- treated me like an olympian though I was just an above average cross country/track runner with some heart; He cheered me on in my first (and last) marathon; he said he admired me, which means a lot to a shy invisible kid (11th, 12th grade p.e., coach) RIP
Mrs. Hunt- taught me a love for music, art, and literature by making it accessible and by making us feel like it was there just for us, and we were worthy to appreciate it. (11th grade humanities) RIP
Mrs. Clayton- gave me permission to love to read and to read anything I wanted to, no but’s or even though’s. (11th grade reading, 12th grade t.a.)
Ms. Figuerelli– liked me even though I sucked at Spanish; I could be just okay at something and still be likeable, at least in her class. (11th grade Spanish)
Mrs. Adams- treated me as a special girl, came to my house for lunch, my inner world said “I am no one,” she said louder, “you are someone.” (2nd grade)
Mrs. Krause- for letting us act out Huckleberry Finn instead of just sitting there pretending to read for a whole year; it’s literally the only thing I remember about 7th grade! She obviously knew child development. (7th grade English)
Mrs. Boylin– for asking me if she could enter my essay into a contest (9th grade) RIP
Mr. Smith– for letting us give presentations in front of the class and make a huge deal out of it; I’ll bet I’m not the only one to remember most of my speech; mine was on the digestive system (5th grade science)
Dr. Papalagos- for rocking my world about political theory and appearing to be delighted by me, as a person, too; though that was my partying year in college, he didn’t seem to notice the lateness or the truancy, just my presence. (political science, undergraduate)
Dr. Margolis- for letting me become a thoughtful reflective teacher, pushing us go deeper than we thought we could, wanting us to dialogue about our readings, writings, and thoughts; for letting me write the thesis I wanted and appearing to be very happy with the result. (education, graduate)
Kris Boggs- my dearest friend and colleague; for inspiring me to stay true to myself as we taught next door to each other for so many years; so different from me as a teacher, but embracing and honoring my practice, when even I wanted to throw in the towel to those who wanted me to conform. You’ll simply never know how good of a friend you’ve been. (colleague)
Scott Jacobs– my other friend who I will think of until I die; we pushed each other further than we could go by ourselves; I wonder if together, we would make a perfect teacher..probably not. 🙂 may we re-unite again someday to complete the conversation. (colleague)
All the teachers I read in the blogs these days- who are fighting the good fight for kids to have a meaningful and worthy education, despite all forces working against that end. I was too busy all these years teaching and fighting my own battles to realize there are others like me out there. They inspire me, too, though I never met them.
And the countless great educators– who I was privileged to be required to read in college, who were hopefully the driving force behind most of what I did in the classroom. I always knew the moments when I wasn’t doing the right thing for all sorts of conformist reasons, but in those moments, I had a conscience that nagged and nagged because of these great teachers and educators. My greatest wish is that every one studying to become a teacher would get to read them, too.
We have got to fight to preserve the institution that brought us these lifelong educators who know what they’re doing and why they are doing it. They care for the students and our society so deeply that teaching is their calling and their life’s work. Let’s change the tide before history blames us for allowing Teach for America and Kahn Academy to replace the American public educator, who once upon a time, helped kids tap into their power, their potential, their importance- who, once upon a time, taught American youth how to freely choose to use their power, potential, and importance for the betterment of all.