My Favorite Teacher
My favorite teacher was scary and mean -- but only in the eyes of those who had never been in her classroom. Those of us who were her students encouraged the rumors and bolstered our reputations for bravery, secure in the knowledge that she would protect and defend us with every ounce of her being, because we were "her students." What kind of teacher inspires such trust? The best kind!The other day a local newspaper columnist, the survivor of an abusive childhood, wrote about a teacher who had made a difference in her life. The teacher, she said, "made me forget what was waiting for me at home."
What was it I wondered about that teacher that was different? What qualities did she have that allowed her to reach a child who was so nearly out of reach? I don't know. I do know, however, what it was that made my favorite teacher special. I'd like to tell you about her.
My favorite teacher was demanding. Hers was the original zero tolerance classroom. "You didn't do your homework? Complete the assignment? Follow directions? Listen to the question? Study for the exam? Intolerable! You get a zero!"
My favorite teacher was flexible. Her zero tolerance policy was tempered with common sense. "My dog ate my homework" didn't cut it. "My dog was sick" did. "I got so interested in Chapter 6 that I didn't have time to read Chapter 7" could also be winner -- provided you could justify the chapter's fascination.
My favorite teacher was real. We were aware that she too had a life -- a full, busy, complicated, interesting life. But she came to class prepared -- and so could we. She carried her love of the subject matter into the real world and came back with knowledge and experiences to share -- and so could we. She had bad days -- and so could we. Once in a while.
My favorite teacher criticized us but never demeaned us. She wasn't above a public dressing down if one of us failed to turn in an assignment or pay attention in class or do our best. But she never attacked us personally, she always knew what our best was, and she never asked for more than that -- or accepted less.
My favorite teacher was fair. She was human. She must have had favorites. But if she did, we never knew who they were. She clearly loved us all.
My favorite teacher was "scary and mean" -- but only in the eyes of students who had never been in her classroom. Those of us who were her students encouraged the rumors and bolstered our reputations for bravery, secure in the knowledge that she would protect and defend us with every ounce of her being, because we were "her students."
My favorite teacher demanded respect, treated us respectfully, and expected us to respect one another. We were a family. We took care of one another. No excuses!
My favorite teacher was involved -- and she bullied us into getting involved too. "I'm directing the spring play. I expect to see every one of you at tryouts." "I'm the advisor for the school paper and I need a good sports writer." "You have terrific literary insights. Why don't I see you at the Great Books Club meetings?" This is your life. Live it!
My favorite teacher was the teacher. She didn't tell jokes or hang out in the halls or try to be our friend. She didn't talk down to us; we were expected to talk "up" to her, to meet her expectations, to seek her level.
My favorite teacher was enthusiastic and involved, demanding and fair, interesting and interested. She gave every indication that she saw each of us as unique and fascinating individuals who were destined to make her proud -- if only she could knock some sense into us. How could we disappoint her?
My favorite teacher is my history teacher, and he is by far the best teacher that I have ever had. He has the ability to make a subject that many students find incredibly boring come to life through his enthusiasm and passion for history, and his love of being a teacher. Going to his lessons is something we look forward to, not dread, like we do with most other lessons.
It’s ever so funny to watch him get excited about something, which happens in every lesson. It’s easy to know that he’s getting excited because he begins bouncing up and down slightly in a way that no other sixty-something year old would ever managed without looking completely ridiculous. He has this dark (with more and more grey streaks these days), springy hair that lines the edge of his growing bald patch, and the hair bounces up and down with him like thousands of tiny little springs. Then, he takes on his whole new persona, often going into role and becoming the character or figure he is talking about, doing the voices, the actions, and parading up and down the room gesticulating wildly, but all the while there’s a gentle ‘bounce, bounce, bounce’, as though the springs are not just on his head but on the soles of his shoes too.
A teacher that doesn’t take himself too seriously always will be a big hit with teenagers, although he’s not afraid to impose his authority if he has to. I’ve only ever heard him properly shout once (although thankfully it wasn’t it me), but it isn’t an experience that I would like to repeat. When he lost it, the room suddenly became more silent than I’d ever known it to be before. We all sat slightly paralyzed, not even anting to breathe too loudly, because hearing such a jovial and jolly little man lose his temper was a huge shock. It certainly had the right kind of impact though, because he’s never needed to shout since.
It is actually this teacher that I have to thank for my love of history. In his lessons, history does not mean copying out of textbooks and writing pages and pages of notes. History is alive; history is something tangible, that you can see, hear and feel, and we can live it through dressing up and acting out scenes or taking trips to important places of historical interest. And although he’s getting on in years and may not be teaching for much longer, he will have an important place in history for many of his students, because there has never been a teacher able to bring a subject to life in quite the same way he does.