Saturday, July 16, 2016

Vignettes of Teachers Past

Having been challenged to write about the best teacher in my life, I knew immediately who I would write about. But first...

I have many memories of teachers. Some memories are fraught with negative recollections. There was the algebra teacher who forever ruined whatever interest or capability I might have had in any math subject.  She was returning exams and took the time to bring me to the front of the class. She returned my paper (which had earned a passing grade--one of only two students who passed!). Then she proceeded to berate me saying I should have done better, that I had the ability to do better.  And that, dear reader, was it. I have never since had any confidence in doing math.

There were several high school teachers. Since I had spent the bulk of my elementary and secondary education years in schools overseas, I was somewhat at sea coming into the U.S. education system. So I particularly responded to good or commanding teachers. There was the high school history teacher who had this habit of repeating a phrase--we students began to call him Mr. B, Mr. B, imitating his repetitive style. But I wrote a research paper for his class on medicine in the Civil War and still remember the interest he generated in me for history. Or the advanced biology teacher who was so engaging that when he died recently, I joined other students in an outpouring of memories of his excellence as a teacher.

Of course, there was my first ever teacher--my mother. Since we were living on a mission station away from any town, my mother taught me for kindergarten and first grade. Long before home schooling was possible, my mother was my teacher.

And now, to my favorite teacher ever. When I entered college, I had thoughts of becoming a physician. I don't know how I thought I would accomplish that without any interest or ability in math. It was chemistry that ended any thought of becoming a physician--chemistry, of course, requires some math ability.

I wasn't at loose ends about choosing a major, however. I redirected my academic goal into English literature. And that's when Dr. S became my favorite teacher.  The college I attended had a small student body and a correspondingly small faculty. That meant that many of the various courses I needed to take as an English major were taught by Dr. S. Interestingly, he had a brother who also taught at the college--so there were two Drs. S. And the brother was a history professor, so I took English history courses from him.

From Dr. S, I learned critical thinking. I was encouraged to approach information curiously. All things were open to discovery. And that trait remains with me to this day.

When I graduated from college, I went off to graduate school.  During that year, I was moved to write a letter of thanks to Dr. S. His response was most unexpected and surprising. He asked--did I want to return to my alma mater to teach for a year, filling in for a professor on sabbatical leave. Of course, I said yes. That year turned in eight. And my career was thus begun.

A memorable teacher, indeed. Not long after I returned to teach, Dr. S. moved on to other academic institutions. I have lost contact him. But the memory of his excellence remains.


Jayne said...

It was in algebra that I also learned I was not a "math" person. Thankfully, for nursing in college, all I had to pass was statistics, which made perfect sense to me!
How lovely too that your Mom holds a place as one of your best teachers. I am sure Dr. S saw in you what you may not have even seen in yourself. Isn't that what teachers do best?

Anvilcloud said...

Oddly enough, it is an algebra teacher who would have to be considered as one of my faves. Even though I am not mathematically gifted, I did very well in his grade 13 course back in the day when we still had grade 13 and provincial departmental exams.

Ginger said...

Those teachers in high school and college make such a difference. My Algebra II teacher in high school was one of those guys who is a math whiz but can't explain it clearly. I got an A on my first semester test, and an F on my second semester test. That's when I dumped the idea that pre-Med and I might be a match. But it's also (in retrospect) a commentary on the demotivation that a poor teacher can develop for a student who might otherwise do fairly well. How do I know that? Because when I got to college I got placed in a Fundamentals (the GE requirement) class by Dr. Thompson who was hard-nosed and sarcastic, and who had a reputation for being horrible. I went in with fear and trembling, sat on the last row (uncharacteristic for me) and soon was snickering at his sarcasm and passing my tests with respectable grades. As I finished the class with an A- and he worked me over in one conversation to get me to become a Math major, my world shifted 90 degrees. A match between teacher and student can make all the difference. I later became his boss for 10 years, and continue to love that man. And he loves me, because as his boss I never questioned his expertise as a teacher, and stuck up for him when people might complain. Sure, he needed to put a lid on some of his smart remarks, but he knew I understood his value, and I think that meant a great deal to him. Sorry, I've blathered on, but it's been nice to reminisce.