This article was in the NY Times last week: Teaching Me About Teaching. Charles Blow talks about his favorite teacher: his mom, who was also an actual teacher. He encourages his readers to think about and honor our favorite teachers. I’ve thought about my teachers a lot since reading this article. Trying to pick one was impossible. Trying to narrow it down to a three-way tie was even hard, so, I give you my Top Five list (in chronological order):
Mrs. Brand (who has since become Dr. Brand!)- 1st grade
Mrs. Brand encouraged her students like no one I’ve ever seen. I remember something she called “inventive spelling.” She was really big on writing (more on that in a moment), and thought that students taking too much time to figure out the correct spelling of a word would hold them back in the writing process. So we were encouraged to just spell out a word as best we could in order to keep writing. (This, by the way, did not affect my ability to spell. I’m actually quite a good speller!) As part of her passion for teaching writing, she also turned her classroom into a makeshift printing press and theater. We would write stories, she would type them up, then we would wrap wallpaper samples around pieces of cardboard creating the book’s cover, and finally bound our own books! During the year, I must have written 20 or more books. My favorite was called “Christmas with the Pigs.” Oh, it was hilarious! We also illustrated our own books and were encouraged to dedicate each book to someone special. We also each wrote and starred in plays that year. Mrs. Brand encouraged creativity and the importance of believing in ourselves.
Mrs. Olson – 4th grade
Mrs. Olson was equal parts strict, innovative, and loving. I remember many of the things our class did I 4th grade. Most distinctly, I remember our grade holding a mini-election since it was an election year. We learned about the election process and the importance and responsibility of voting. Because of that, I registered to vote as soon as I could when I was 18, and I’ve never missed an election day. Other 4th grade highlights: the State project (I still know so much about Minnesota), the Harrisburg trip, and we still have the Christmas tree ornament that I made in that class.
Miss Hryhorsky – 6th grade
At a time when kids are trying to understand ourselves, and where we fit in the world (or in the cafeteria), Miss Hryhorsky made her classroom a fun and safe place to be. I remember coming into my real reading self in the class. We had a program in which we earned points by reading books and then taking a quiz about them on the class computer. It’s when I started reading British literature: Dickens, Austen, Bronte. And Miss Hryhorsky didn’t tell me they were above my reading level, nor did she make a big deal out of me reading those books. She behaved as though it was just where I was supposed to be, which is exactly what I needed. We also read Diary of Anne Frank and had very poignant conversations about the Holocaust, discrimination, and empathy for our fellow human beings. One of my favorite things about Miss H’s class was something she called “Room 18 Chat.” We were allowed to write down any question or subject we wanted to talk about and put it anonymously in a coffee can. Every so often, we would all sit together and have a candid discussion on any number of issues. It was very brave of her to do, and was so important for so many of us to have a place to discuss life topics.
Miss Goodman – 10th grade
It was really hard to pick one teacher from my high school experience, as so many were instrumental (in addition to Miss Goodman…Mrs. Burger, Mr.McCabe, Mrs. Thomas, Mrs. Clemens, Mr. Keenan to name a few). But, Miss Goodman was kind of the start of my fantastic high school experience. Her class was my first honors English class, and it changed my life. She taught us about research and reverence, literature and life, citations and critical thought. I still use the research methods I learned in her class, and it’s how I teach my own students about research. We read interesting and important works of literature. But most importantly, she was such a great mentor. She coached us in life. One day she talked to us about teenage pregnancy and had us all write down three things we wanted to accomplish in our lives so that we always had a conscious goal to keep in mind. Our success and happiness were as essential to her classroom as our ability to write coherently.
and last but not least….
Dr. Gregory Seigworth – freshman-senior year of college
Although Dr. Greg is the first male on this list, he is actually the first one that really gave me the intellectual tools to understand and discuss feminism. His research interests intrigued me from the start. I never realized you could spend your life’s work on studying stuff like music lyrics, fashion, advertising and film’s influence on culture. So cool! Luckily I had my first Dr. Greg class right away in college, and it set the tone perfectly. I was also lucky enough to be assigned Dr. Greg as my advisor, so I got extra time with him as well. He encouraged me to study interesting topics, taught me how to enjoy research, and how to write about it so that it is interesting to others as well. He was also the inspiration for me to become a professor of communication (and women’s studies). He was the first one I talked to about it, and he was immediately supportive. He served on my honors thesis committee, helped me with grad school research, and wrote countless letters of recommendation. He was always my number one fan, and continues to be now. We are still in touch, and I’m so blessed to have had an amazing academic advisor that turned into an amazing life mentor.
Deep breath….ahhh. Thank you for reading to the end! I know this was quite a long post, but I felt it was important to honor those that have been fantastic teachers to me. I encourage you to do the same. A looooong blog post is not necessary, but perhaps donate your Facebook status or Twitter tweets (?) to honor your favorite teacher once or twice this week. Or even better, if you can send a small note or card to them to tell them you appreciate them, that would be awesome! I have found since I’ve become a teacher that teaching as a career is one of the most undervalued and over-criticized professions out there. So a little appreciation from a former student sure could go a long way. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!