Tag Archives: Educators

When the Teacher Doesn’t ‘Get’ Your Kid: a #LessonLearned by Marilyn Gardner

I “met” Marilyn Gardner when she was Freshly Pressed with the fabulous post “Dull Women Have Immaculate Coffee Tables.” As a total neatnik, I immediately took offense. But I quickly calmed down. Marilyn had so many fabulous things to say.

Cool things to know about Marilyn: She was raised in Pakistan and tasted her first strawberry in Afghanistan. She has 5 children born on 3 continents – 2 born at a hospital overlooking the Nile River. She loves tea and scones, especially in London. And she wants to be buried with her Passport.

Marilyn’s blog is called Communicating.Across.Boundaries. You should follow her on Twitter @marilyngard.

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Click on the teacher lady's butt to see other #LessonsLearned

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When The Teacher Doesn’t “Get” Your Kid by Marilyn Gardner

The F could not be disguised. No matter how skilled my son was with the fine-point of a Sharpie, we could tell that it was not an A+ in English. If the pen smudge hadn’t given it away, then the comments would have: “Does not do his homework. Disorganized. Enthusiastic in class.”  Even though I had heard the comments before and knew they came from a drop-down list on a computer program, they still stung. This was my easy-going, bright, 16 year-old, and he loves writing. How can he be getting an F?

School had always been a challenge for Jonathan and by default, me. Had I the ability and had he been a first-born, I would probably have decided to home-school but he was the youngest of five and I had become a relaxed parent, learning that a poor grade in high school didn’t necessarily equate to a life of underachieving. I had also learned that I could occasionally indulge in the immature act of locking myself in my room to escape, that unless blood was flowing there was no need to panic, and that hiding a secret stash of wine and chocolate did not make me an alcoholic or a binge drinker/eater – it made me a mom who knew how to coddle herself and engage in “self-care”.

Except when they don't.

I have tremendous respect for teachers and early on I realized although we may differ on the details, we both had the same goal in mind – that my children achieve their potential in an academic setting. Or, mostly we had the same goal in mind. Occasionally there was the teacher that did not seem to think there was potential, and that was the challenge presented with the F. While on the surface it looked like the F was a product of laziness and disorganization, on further scrutiny it was clear that the F was a product of Jonathan and the English teacher butting heads. The English teacher was a newbie and a realist. My son is an old soul and a romantic. This is a kid that spent a Friday night in October at an event called “Waking Jack Kerouac” in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is not your average student. And if I am honest, she is not the first teacher to face frustration with him in the classroom.

So there we were. Jonathan on one side, teacher on the other, me in between. If there was ever a time to put in the ear plugs and shout “I’m not listening! I’m not listening” to both of them, this was it.  But the reality was (and is) that I need to hear and understand both sides. Life is not about others understanding us, although it’s nice when it happens.

Life is about seeing from both points of view and helping negotiate understanding between the two.

I don’t think this teacher will ever get Jonathan, and the outcome will not necessarily be a grade that is pretty, no matter how much he tries to disguise it with a sharpie. But she isn’t there just to ‘get’ him. She has a classroom full of students, many with far more difficult circumstances than my son. Although I desperately want her to understand and appreciate this child that drives me crazy and that I would give my life for, it’s not a requirement and doesn’t mean she isn’t a good teacher with other, more mainstream, students.

The great thing about this story is that in the midst of the defeat of an F from one teacher, another heard Jonathan playing piano two days later, stopped in and said “I don’t know if you know this, but you are known as an outstanding musician by the faculty in the arts department.”

“Thank you” he said. “My peers don’t think so.”

“Your peers don’t know shit,” she responded.

He grinned until he fell asleep that night.

@Tweet This Twit @rasjacobson

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Hidden Potential: Guest Post by Saucy B.

Saucy B

Do you wear reading glasses? If so, don’t forget to enter my reading glasses giveaway which ends December 16th. Details HERE.

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My guest blogger today sharing her teacher memory is Saucy B. She pretends to be tough — she lives in northern New Jersey and claims if you call her a Jersey Girl, she will kick you in the shins — but for all her attitude, Saucy B comes with an enormous side order or good old-fashioned mama love.

I can relate to Saucy B’s story on one hundred levels. When she wrote this post and discussed how she was described by family members as “precocious” but school was academically challenging for her, I totally got it.

@SaucyB is currently taking a break from her blog, but I hope she will drop by to moderate comments. Her post speaks to so many people who have children who are struggling with school.

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Hidden Potential

I was late bloomer when it came to academics. I was young for my grade; in fact, by today’s requirements, I wouldn’t have even been allowed to enter school when I did.

But, since I was rather precocious in nature – often described as being four going on forty by my relatives – my mother didn’t hesitate to enter me into kindergarten.

It’s not that I didn’t get good grades; it’s just that those good grades came as the result of a lot hard work, a little bit of sweat, and certainly a few tears.

I was in my comfort zone with reading and language arts. But math. Oh math. There’s a reason that when I entered college I was an English major with a minor in Communication. (Dear Rutgers University, thank you for dropping your quantitative requirement the year I entered your fine institution.)

Anyway, it was in fifth grade that students in my school system could be chosen to participate in a Gifted and Talented program that met on Saturday mornings called C.A.T. (I haven’t the slightest idea what that stands for anymore.)

While I recall being slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to participate in fifth grade, I wasn’t completely surprised either. I was doing well, but I certainly wasn’t pulling down straight A’s.

Things changed when I entered sixth grade and was in the class of the school’s only male teacher at the time, Mr. Adubato. This teacher really tried to bring new ideas and other ways of learning to the table. He recognized and encouraged my creative writing in a way that no one else had. And after the first marking period, he got me into the C.A.T. program.

I remember being so proud that as part of the program I got to “publish” my own book of short stories. In reality, my work had just been bound with a nice front and back cover by the school librarian. But, to me, it made me legit.

Today, I see my son, who is also young for his grade, struggling as well. Kindergarten was not an easy transition for him. He received basic skills help and was evaluated this summer by the school’s Child Study Team.

At the beginning of the year, I told his teacher, “There are no rose-colored glasses in this house.” And while I’m very much aware and recognize that my son has challenges, I also know that he is extremely bright and articulate. Collectively, we just have to figure out how to unlock the potential that I know is sitting poised and ready in his little body.

How am I so sure of this? Last weekend I had the privilege of transcribing a story that my son made up to go with a comic book he had drawn. He had numbered the pages, established heroes and villains, and formulated a plot with a distinct beginning, middle and end.

He just couldn’t write it.

Apparently, kids his age are supposed to be able to write some semblance of words based on how they sound. My guy isn’t even close to that yet. So we sat. And I told him the letters to write so that he could bring the story out of his imagination and onto the page.

I strongly suspect that things may get harder for my son before they get easier when it comes to his school work. But I hope he is fortunate enough to have a teacher that recognizes his unique capabilities the way Mr. Adubato recognized mine.

How much do you think a child’s age influences his or her academic performance? And what do you think about “gifted and talented” programs?

If You’re Lucky: Guest Post by Chase McFadden

Enter my reading glasses giveaway which ends December 16th. Details HERE.

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Today’s guest blogger sharing his teacher memory is the amazing Chase McFadden from Some Species Eat Their Young. Chase shares another blog with Leanne ShirtliffeStuff Kids Write. I don’t know how I first stumbled upon Chase’s stuff, but I subscribed immediately.

I honestly get giddy when his stuff rolls in. Chase is a comic genius. He’s got like forty-two kids, and he lives on this farm where everyone is always filthy all the time. Or else they are wielding light sabres. Or trying to dig up enormous rocks. Excellent, right?

I think somebody in that family is doing laundry at all times, but I’ll bet Chase is a good sport about it. He manages to find the rainbow behind every cloud. Or the pot of gold at the foot of every rainbow. Chase probably finds the leprechaun. You know what I mean? He’s that guy with the positive outlook. You should follow him on Twitter @Chase_McFadden. Don’t forget the underscore. If you don’t get it right, you’ll be following another dude.

And that would be unfortunate. And creepy.

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If You’re Lucky

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education.

That teacher who genuinely believes she teaches people first, a subject second.

That teacher wise enough to realize that if you’re treated with basic human values — respect, empathy, and love – you’ll drink the Kool-Aid, no matter the flavor.

That teacher who takes a vested interest in you, outside of your ability to compose an expository essay or identify a poetic structure.

That teacher who is in the stands one Saturday when your team takes down the mighty Camels.

Luck is good.

That teacher who greets you at the door Monday morning with a smile and asks about your weekend fishing trip.

That teacher who talks less and listens more.

That teacher who you don’t want to disappoint, which is powerful, because when you’re 17 or 18 you oftentimes aren’t thinking about disappointing yourself.

That teacher who instinctively understands that disappointment is a much more meaningful motivational tool than fear and crafts relationships accordingly.

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education who sees strengths and aptitudes in you that you may be unable – or unwilling – to recognize in yourself.

That teacher who gives you the freedom to explore.

That teacher who asks, “What do you want to write about?”

That teacher who hands back your collection of humorous fictional stories, the stories you worked on for the better part of your senior year, with a simple note attached: These are wonderful. You’re going to have the best-written reports in your firm.

That teacher who tries not to cringe when you tell her you are going to college to study engineering.

That teacher who knows that isn’t what’s in your heart, in your soul, but encourages you just the same.

That teacher who knows there are some things a person just has to figure out for himself.

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education who believes in you more than you believe in yourself.

I’m lucky.

I had Ms. Watne.

What did you think you wanted to be when you were in high school? Are you doing it?

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

Lessons From Mrs. Gurney: Guest Post by Penny Thoyts

Don't you love Penny's hair?

My guest blogger today is not a blogger at all. She could be though. If she weren’t so busy raising daughters and sewing. Penny Thoyts and I met at another website a few years ago and developed a lovely cyber friendship.

I know what an amazing mind Penny has and when she showed up here, I knew she would have an amazing story to share. Penny was born and raised In Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire – one of the most affluent towns in the United Kingdom.

Penny’s parents were devout Christians, and she was raised a Christian, too. At age 16, Penny started to rebel; she abandoned her education and got into all sorts of trouble. Amazingly, Penny found her way back to academia and earned advanced degrees in Biology with Analytical Chemistry. While studying for her PhD, Penny met her husband. Together, they have two daughters, aged 12 and 9. Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her 30’s, Penny now works as a Youth Worker. At 41 years old, she is not finished rebelling

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Lessons From Mrs. Gurney

Mrs. Gurney was a family friend, sort of. She attended the same church as my parents, and they knew her well. A little too well perhaps. She was a large woman, very overweight (in a time when being overweight was uncommon); she was opinionated and held views that were not always consistent with my parents’ views. She attended church meetings and made everyone very well aware of what she thought about whatever was on the agenda – and a few things that weren’t on the agenda no doubt. A woman with a domineering personality, Mrs. Gurney was a little bit scary. She was also quite loud. When she read the lesson in church, the whole town heard it. And she read the lesson like only a primary school teacher could. God, (we will assume for these purposes that He exists and that He was in church while Mrs. Gurney read the lesson) probably took great care not to fidget too much whilst Mrs. Gurney was reading the Bible lest He be reprimanded.

When my mother learned Mrs. Gurney was to be my teacher when I was eight years old, she was a little concerned. She needn’t have been. Kath was a wonderful teacher. She was very strict and, to tell the truth, I was a desperately shy, withdrawn, child who was frequently picked on. No one picked on me in Mrs. Gurney’s class. No one would have dared bully anyone in front of Mrs. Gurney. It wasn’t that she was especially caring or particularly alert to the terrible traumas that could result from bullying, it was just that bullying was not on the schedule and if it wasn’t on the schedule, she had no truck with it. I was safe in class with Mrs. Gurney. It’s hard to explain what a relief it was to enter that classroom.

Mrs. Gurney was big on the three R’s. It was Mrs. Gurney who taught me the difference between “two” “to” and “too”. I still remember the carefully hand-drawn posters on the wall. The first had a picture of two sweeties (candies) that said: “two sweets”. The second had a picture of a jar of sweets, the jar overflowing. The words under the picture read “too many sweets”. The third hand-drawn picture was of a signpost, the sign read “to the zoo”. The posters were at the front of the class. I saw them everyday for a year. If your eyes wandered from your books, they would inevitably wander onto her posters. She had another set of posters illustrating the words “there” “they’re” and “their”.

Mrs. Gurney had no favourites, nor did she appear to dislike anyone. She sat at an old-fashioned oak desk and had a drawer full of red pens. If you spelled a word wrong, you wrote it out ten times at the bottom of your work. If you spelled twenty words wrong, you wrote all twenty words out ten times. It was not negotiable. An error in a sentence, a misplaced quotation mark and the sentence had to be written out again in your exercise book. She also had silver and gold stars in her drawer. They were not given out willy-nilly. You earned your gold stars and they were highly prized.

The classroom was arranged in a rather Victorian style. We sat at double desks and a boy was always seated next to a girl (to stop chatter). The brightest children sat at the front. We had exams twice a year in all subjects the results of which determined your position in the class – literally. The brightest (or most academically successful) boy sat next to the brightest girl – and so on round the class – until you got to the back row “thickies”. The children at the back of the class were not ridiculed or humiliated for being at the back however: that was just how things were. Ridiculing people wasn’t on the schedule.

Even if you were sat at the back, you couldn’t expect to hide away and learn nothing. Mrs. Gurney was one of those frightening quick fire teachers. Daydream for more than a few seconds and you would hear her bellow: “James Smith! What is 7 x 9?” or “Jennifer Jones! What is two thousand and twelve in Roman numerals?!”

What is more she would wait in silence for several minutes until you got the answer or at least made a good attempt at answering. If you didn’t get the answer right, you could guarantee there would be more questions headed your way later in the day. It was terrifying, but by George it worked.

She sounds awful, but she wasn’t. She was firm and fair. She treated everyone the same and she expected everyone to succeed. Do a good piece of work and you would see “good”, “very good”, or “excellent work” written in red pen. If you were really lucky she would write a few words of praise. She never gushed, but she did notice.

To me, Mrs. Gurney is everything a primary school teacher should be. She was a little frightening, but we learned. And surely that is the point. She didn’t really teach me to enjoy learning (although I can’t recall ever being bored or disinterested in her lessons), but she did teach me that hard work gets results. Doing well is satisfying. Even now, I gloat a little that I don’t confuse “to”, “two”, and “too” like so many others. I am privileged to be able to gloat. I can only be inwardly snobby because she taught me so well.  All those poems I had to learn by rote, all the poems I had to write myself, the mental arithmetic, history, fractions, technical drawing, the copperplate handwriting, science, geography (well, maybe not geography) – it wasn’t always easy. It was challenging, but Mrs. Gurney expected us to succeed and we wouldn’t dare do otherwise.

Mrs. Gurney didn’t teach me to love learning, that came later. She taught me how to learn. She taught me how to think, how to concentrate, how to listen, how to focus, how and when to ask questions and she taught me to persevere. Try, try and try again. If you don’t persevere, you risk failing and failure is not on the schedule. Mrs. Gurney gave me the tools with which to learn and without those tools no one can enjoy learning. Without those tools, learning is like climbing Mount Everest with no food and no oxygen whilst dressed in jeans and a sweater.

I still see Mrs. Gurney from time to time. She is elderly now, and her eyesight is failing. She is still opinionated. She was a devoted wife and, as far as I am aware, her two children love her and visit regularly. She still attends the same church as my mother. Nowadays I call her Kath (most of the time).

Some years ago I went to the church to attend a party in the hall. I was in the kitchen counting out cups and saucers for the tea when Kath came in and started bossing people around. She saw me counting cups and saucers out loud and said briskly, “Have you counted them right? You need 40 for tea and eight for coffee!” I turned to her with a grin and said, “Yes, you taught me to count proper; there are five rows of eight”. Satisfied that I was up to the job of counting out cups and saucers, she went on to ask what I was doing with my life. I told her that I had just completed my PhD. Her face lit up and she said, “One of my children! A doctor!”

I don’t think I have ever been so proud.

What teacher would you like to run into now that you are an adult? What would you want to say to this person? And what would you wish this person could say to you?

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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

 

My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola: Guest Post by Mark Kaplowitz

Mark Kaplowitz

My guest blogger today is Mark Kaplowitz. I started cyber-crushing on MarKap the minute he came onto the blogging scene. Many of his earliest pieces were nostalgic pieces that made me long for the days of metal lunchboxes (like he wrote about HERE) and action figures (like he wrote about HERE). His writing is punchy and hilarious. I can’t understand why he hasn’t been discovered and published already. I would totally buy his books. (You hear that publishers? He’s already sold one copy!) You can find Mark’s blog HERE and follow him on Twitter at @MarkKaplowitz. Thanks for sharing your teacher memory, Mark. I now understand  your fear of crayons.

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My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola

Ms. Deagle seemed normal on the first day of first grade, as she stood at the front of the room and announced that she rewarded good work with scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers.  I thanked my lucky stars that I had not been assigned to the ancient Mrs. Krabcik, who, it was rumored, bit the erasers off students’ pencils to make errors impossible to hide.

There had been no stickers in Kindergarten, and I was excited that, at last, my brilliance would be properly remunerated. As Ms. Deagle handed out a purple-inked mimeograph, called a “ditto,” I prepared to impress my new teacher with my wizardry at addition or spelling.

The ditto, however, contained neither sums nor words to be completed, but an uncolored picture of children sitting in a classroom. “I thought we would start first grade with a little coloring assignment,” Ms. Deagle said, standing with her hands locked behind her back.  “I make two assumptions about all of your coloring work. One, that all of the pictures will be outlined in black. And two, that none of the colors will smudge.  Please check your work before you hand it to me, to make sure my assumptions hold true.”

Not the pack Mark used.

I outlined the ditto in black and colored it in, making the wisest selections I could from my shiny new 64-pack of Crayola crayons, with perfect points and untorn wrappers. The ditto took close to an hour to complete, and blackened the heel of my coloring hand.  I was tired but ready to proceed to more intellectually challenging material.

But the second assignment was another coloring ditto, as was the one after that. My first day of first grade was devoted entirely to coloring, and the last assignment of the day — a beach scene that made me long for the summer vacation just ended — had so many items that I had to take the ditto home with me. On the morning of the second day, we lined up before Ms. Deagle’s desk to have our work reviewed and, if acceptable, obtain a sticker for it. My stomach churned as my turn approached.

“Not bad, Mark,” Ms. Deagle said, scanning my work like a museum curator. “But I can see where you let the black outlining bleed into the ocean here. Please be more careful in the future.” I said I would, and thanked her for the sticker she pressed onto the top left corner of the ditto. As I scratched the sticker and inhaled the aroma of pepperoni pizza, I rejoiced that I had survived the coloring trial.

But the arithmetic that I’d been counting on did not come that day, either. Instead, we were given more coloring to do: an 11×17 mural of school buses lined up in front of a school, ready to cart happy children away to happy homes. I wished that I could join them. I used more care when coloring adjacent to black outline, but still the crayon bled, making my buses look muddy.

As the weeks and months passed, the coloring assignments did not abate. Coloring appeared to be the only skill that Ms. Deagle deemed worth teaching.  Once in a while we would get a math or reading assignment—a treat to be saved for last and savored—but it was a momentary and inconsequential digression from our art.

Imagine being six years old and coloring until 10 o’clock every night. A century earlier and I could have been standing before a lathe. True, I was not going to lose a hand coloring. But sometimes it sure felt like it. And not all students were as skilled as I.

Emmy, one of my classmates, was quiet and had no friends that I could see.  She was also slow in her work and had trouble following directions. She colored in defiance of the lines, saved her black crayon for tests that required a No. 2 pencil, and was so behind in her assignments that Ms. Deagle would lock her in the classroom during recess.

When that punishment did not work, Ms. Deagle locked Emmy in the closet. As we filed out the door for lunch, each of us peered through the closet window at a scared and timid Emmy looking out.  I don’t know if Emmy’s work improved after that, but mine certainly did.

By the spring, my parents had compared notes with the notes of my classmates’ parents, and decided it was time for a meeting with the principal about dear Ms. Deagle.  I remember hearing about the meeting, and that the principal had promised to do something. I also remember how nothing changed. But I survived Ms. Deagle’s first grade and moved on to second grade where, in only a few short weeks, I relearned the alphabet. Emmy was left back — with another teacher, I hope.

I picture Ms. Deagle today, retired and watching cable news programs in her den. In one segment, parents sit with their child and a lawyer, and say they are suing their child’s school because “chaining students to their desks is an unacceptable practice in the 21st Century.” And Ms. Deagle shakes her head, scratches and sniffs a nearby sticker, and calls her sister to complain about how educational standards have slipped.

What was the most lame assignment you ever had to do in school? Or what was your least favorite color in the 64-box of crayons.

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!
 

Damage Done: Guest Post by Leonore Rodrigues

Leonore Rodrigues

Today’s teacher story comes from guest blogger Leonore Rodrigues from As a Linguist. Leonore and I connected because of our love of language, weird words, and proper punctuation. As it turns out, we have quite a few real life things in common. 

Leonore’s a teacher and she just wrote a lovely piece called Intermission. It is exactly what I’ve been feeling recently, and she wrote it so beautifully. Please check it out after you read what she wrote here today. Also feel free to follow her on Twitter at @asalinguist. Thanks for helping me out, L.

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Damage Done

I can remember the names of most of my teachers I’ve had from kindergarten until graduation from high school, which is something about me that freaks out my boyfriend just a little bit. I try to tell him that there is still plenty that I don’t remember about school, but then I go and spoil it by mentioning that I also remember most of my first-day outfits.

I don’t know why these details stick, but the truth is that I do remember not only names, but little details about most of my teachers: my second grade teacher hated when we used short pencils; my fifth grade teacher showed tons of film strips; my ninth grade English teacher used the word ‘bitch’ on the first day of class and we loved her for it; my eleventh grade trig teacher smelled like cigarettes, coffee, and chalk; and my twelfth grade Calculus teacher was sweet and flirty, but was probably just a stone’s throw from being a dirty old man instead.

These details stand out but they don’t mark the teachers as being particularly great or terrible. When I do think of my favorite teachers, different memories arise. My sixth grade Math and History teacher’s silly manner made his classes fun and interesting. My eleventh grade American History teacher taught me how to write clearly and concisely, and he took me seriously, which helped me gain more confidence in myself and my ideas. My twelfth grade English teacher – who is probably my favorite teacher of those years – built on that confidence and challenged us every day with thought-provoking lessons.

Unfortunately, not all of the memories were good.

My third grade teacher, Mrs. G. was rather stand-offish, which in and of itself wasn’t a bad thing, but it didn’t win her many supporters, either. Her lessons were straight-forward and predictable, which for me usually meant boring. I thrived when a teacher gave us unusual projects or pushed us with harder material. Even clumsy classroom manners were forgiven as long as the teacher had passion and energy to inject into the lesson. Mrs. G. gave us neither creative nor passionate lessons.

Sockcat

The moment that stands out in my mind was the day she assigned a project to make a puppet. It didn’t matter what kind of puppet it was – it could be a sock puppet or it could be a 10-string marionette for all she cared. It could be a princess, a dog, or a prison inmate. We were left to our own devices and given no examples, guidelines, or criteria.

I’d seen some dolls that T, my best friend, had in her house that her mother had made. We talked about it and she said she was probably going to do a puppet similar in style to the dolls. Not having the slightest idea of what kind of puppet I could even hope to make, I asked Mrs. G if T and I could do the same sort of puppet if I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

She not only told me “no” about the puppet project, but she also quite bluntly told me that I depended too much on T, that I should be more original and not just copy my friend, and that it probably wasn’t even healthy for us to be such close friends anyway. I came away from school that day with the sense that my teacher thought I was a parasite and a fake. Not knowing any better, I thought she must be right. I felt like a girl with any real talent, intelligence, or integrity wouldn’t need to get ideas from anyone else, and so it must be true that I’m useless on my own. Nothing she did for the rest of the year ever disabused me of that notion.

At the end of the year, Mrs. G. assigned T and me to different fourth grade classes so we could break our apparent co-dependence on each other. We stayed just as close as we’d been, despite the separation. Slowly, I began to repair the damage that had been done to my self-esteem. To this day, however, I find that there’s still a tiny voice in the back of my mind that ask, “Was she right? Was I really just getting valid help with a project, or was I copying? Am I really just a hack?”

A teacher’s influence can indeed be deeply-felt for many years afterward. I wish my 9-year-old self had gotten angry and fought back, but I was lucky to have good teachers in the following years to combat the damage done. It took a long time, but at least now my 40-year-old self knows how to fight back.

Was there a teacher who really sapped your self-esteem? Did you ever get it back?

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

 

Those Who Can’t Teach: Guest Post by Tamara Lunardo

Tamara-Out-Loud

I am beyond thrilled to have Tamara Lunardo as my guest blogger today. Where I sometimes get mired in the details, Tarama is a big picture kind of girl. Tamara’s writing is as fresh, edgy and vibrant as she is. Gentle and compassionate, Tamara (pronounced Ta-MAH-ra) is a wonderful read. Note: Just don’t mispronounce her name or call her Tammy or she’ll punch you in the throat.

Tamara has an essay featured in Alise Wright’s book Not Alone: Stories Of Living With Depression, a compilation of a wide range of experiences, voices, and opinions of individuals who have lived with and continue to live with depression. And whether she’s writing about depression or tattoos, Tamara makes you think. She makes this little Jewish girl think about Jesus a lot. And that’s something.

You can find Tamara at HERE or Twitterstalk her at @tamaraoutloud.

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Those Who Can’t Teach

It was my senior year of high school, and I was a frequent skipper of my coast-able classes, as bored, brainy teens are wont to be. One class in particular was on my skip list, partly because it was the last period of the day and partly because I felt I could gain nothing from it whatsoever: Yes, I hated English.

To be accurate, I loved English; I hated that English class. I hated hearing the assistant principal use the pseudo-word “irregardless” when he visited our classroom, and I hated seeing the teacher blink blankly as I railed against it in intellectual-teen angst. I hated her insecure explanations and her flimsy lessons. I hated being so ill instructed in a subject I so well loved. And so I opted out of attendance when I could, and I snapped out right answers when I couldn’t. I was not high in the running for teacher’s pet.

And then I had a change of heart.

I took my SATs and got a near-perfect score on the verbal portion, which resulted in letters of courting from various collegiate English departments. So I decided that this was the time and way to make amends, to offer this teacher evidence that perhaps I’d listened to and learned something from her after all, even though we both knew the truth. I approached her after class with uncharacteristic zeal and shared my exciting news.

“Yes,” she vocally shrugged, “that happens sometimes.”

• • •

I walked into a restaurant in my old hometown last year, and I saw that teacher eating alone at a table. She was thinner, fainter, and still as blank. My heart went out to her, and I had to say, “Hello.”

I reintroduced myself and let her know of my modest successes with the English language since my 12-year departure from her class. I offered my degree and freelance writing and editing career as evidence that perhaps I’d listened to and learned something from her after all, even though we both knew the truth. She blinked worn eyelids toward my contrite face and said without a shred of remembrance or interest, “Oh, that’s nice.”

And I walked away with uncharacteristic zeal because I thought, It really is.

And we both knew the truth.

Did you have a teacher you could’ve done without? Were you a class-skipper or a teacher’s pet? And on a scale of 1-10, how much does “irregardless” piss you off?

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

Ode to Werner Barth: Guest Post by Larry Hehn

Larry Hehn

Larry Hehn is my special guest blogger today. He is the brains behind Christian in the Rough, and I feel honored to be the Jewish girl he lets hang around the joint. As Larry says, “I encourage people to find fun in the middle of dysfunction, action at the end of distraction, and grace at the end of disgrace.” Every time Larry posts something I learn something new. I really wish I knew him in real life. Feel free to Twitter-stalk him at @LarryHehn.

• • •

Ode to Werner Berth

Werner Barth was the best teacher I ever had. A wiry man with a spring in his step, a sparkle in his eye, a gravelly voice and a thick German accent, Barth had a tremendous effect on me. Strangely, it had nothing to do with the topic he was teaching.

Barth taught statics – defined in one dictionary as “The branch of physics that deals with physical systems in equilibrium, in which no bodies are in motion, and all forces are offset or counterbalanced by other forces.”

It was potentially one of the most boring subjects on earth.

But not with Barth as the teacher.

He loved to teach. And he loved his students.

He communicated ideas in ways that were fun and memorable.

One day, to illustrate the difference in direction between a positive bending moment and a negative bending moment, he stood on his chair and swung his hand up to his head. As he scratched his head, he said, “You can do this on the subway. That’s a positive bending moment.”

He then swung his hand down to his rear end. As he scratched, he said, “You can’t do this on the subway. That’s a negative bending moment.”

Twenty-five years later I still remember the difference.

What impressed me most, though, was his reaction when our entire class performed poorly on a test.

At that point he had been teaching for more than 25 years, longer than most of us in the class had been alive. But there was not an ounce of pride in Barth. At our next scheduled lesson, he pulled up a chair in the middle of the classroom, sat down and questioned us for an hour about how he could improve his teaching methods.

Even after years of learning, applying and teaching, he was still a student.

What I learned in that classroom had only a bit to do with statics, and a lot to do with a lifetime of learning, humility and working within your passion.

Sixteen years after leaving the program, I tracked him down and called him out of the blue to thank him. He remembered me. “Ah, Larry . . . skinny guy!” He remembered all of his students by name, and kept in touch with many of them.

He told me about his retirement 14 years earlier, his recent hiking trip, and how he had beaten colon cancer a few years ago. He spoke with a positive attitude and an appreciation for life that surpassed just about anyone I’ve ever known.

When I grow up, I want to be like him.

It has been eight years since that phone call. I’m sorry to say that I have again lost touch with Barth, but I know we’ll meet again. And when we do, I’m sure he’ll have a sparkle in his eye.

Can you recall a memorable lesson? Who was the teacher? What did he/she do?

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction.

Essays should be around 700-800 words.

Interested but have questions? Email me!

My information is under the Contact Me tab.

NOTE: If you haven’t yet voted in the poll to determine which definition best fits for the word “castanurgle,” click HERE. The polls close on October 20, 2011 at 7 am EST.

Substitute Preacher by Zach Sparer #twits

Zach Sparer. Isn

Today’s guest blogger is Zach Sparer. I first met Zach in 1999 as a student in my 11th grade English class. He was in 5th period. I remember this because I was pregnant, and I usually hurled right before 5th period.

Zach always came to class. And he quickly stood out as an outstanding thinker and writer. His papers were flawless. His thought-process was sophisticated. I started to wonder what he would be when he grew up.

Zach watched me gain 65 pounds, and we have stayed in touch since 1999 — which some people might think is weird. Maybe it is. But whether he likes it or not, he’s pretty much stuck with me.

You can read Zach’s blog Faux Outrage HERE. Here’s his teacher memory.

• • •

Substitute Preacher

Nobody asked for my opinion, but I eventually decided that she deserved some time off.

Ms. Jacobson was pregnant after all, and pregnant women should not be required to teach fifth period English. In fact, I came to realize, pregnant women should not be required to teach any period of English. Or anything else for that matter. For a brief time, pregnant women should be entirely devoid of periods.

They should also say goodbye to: colons, ampersands, and Oxford commas. They should take a semester off — or a trimester, at the very least.

Nobody asked for my opinion, but it was settled: She should leave.

And so she did leave, in the same unremarkable way that every important person in your life leaves: quietly, the syncopation of careful footsteps echoing like a heartbeat muffled by the floorboards.

Twenty-four hours later, there was a stranger standing in front of the classroom.

• • •

The man before us wore a red scarf and was enveloped in a dark brown tweed jacket devoid, amazingly, of professorial patches on each elbow. I immediately begin to wonder whether he was disappointed that New York state law prevented him from smoking a pipe in a high school classroom. I learned that he was there to teach us F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby, among other lessons, but realized rather quickly that his outfit and demeanor were not the result of an elaborate plan to introduce and discuss the social cultures of East Egg vs. West Egg.

We paused, mouths agape.

Who was this guy?

Suddenly, it became clear what was (or wasn’t) going to happen. The students in the classroom, looking bored as usual in their tiny metal chairs, came to an immediate, telepathic understanding: This was not going to work. No one discussed the plan — there was nothing to be discussed — and nobody winked, smirked, nodded, or passed a note.

We just knew.

Looking back, our banding together so quickly was actually a beautiful moment. Pushed together between those off-beige, pockmarked concrete walls sat the girls who never picked up a pencil off the ground in their lives and the Jocks who bought them wine coolers, the Nerds and Geeks who argued about which group encompassed the other, the kids struggling with learning disabilities and the Goths who struggled with most everything else, the Motorheads, the Motor-mouths, and Chameleons — like myself — who happily blended into the background.

We quickly recognized our substitute teacher as a bitter, spiteful man. He monopolized classroom time with personal tales of woe, of his past rejections — in love and in life and in publishing — uncomfortable stories not normally shared with still-developing high school students. He sprinkled in what were to be understood an episodes of personal triumph, but we could tell that he didn’t believe his own hype. More importantly, we could tell that what he did believe was that he was superior to the substitute teacher responsibilities that he was expected to carry out, and that he felt he had been dealt a bad hand, in life and every fifth period Monday through Friday.

Throughout his tenure (a word, thankfully, I am using to mean “period during which something is held” as opposed to “status of holding one’s position on a permanent basis”), he had an unnerving habit where he would make a negative example of certain students in the classroom. He denied those deemed unworthy the right to speak up or to ask questions. He broke up groups of friends and allowed others to remain. He didn’t play favorites; rather, he played Whack-A-Mole with the young adults he felt were not worthy of dignity or confidence.

He thought that he was too good for us.

One day, he sent two of my peers to the principal’s office. They had been tossed aside because they did not show appropriate reverence to our substitute preacher. They had spoken out of turn. They were non-believers, heretics.

A few minutes after they were sent out, our “leader” began to speculate about the quality of their home lives. The students tossed from the classroom were hardly my friends, but at that moment, they were my brother and sister. I sat there shaking my head slowly, and then faster, and then not at all.

I was listening to a grown man — someone hired to inspire — ridicule his students behind their backs, in front of their peers.

I was done blending in.

My hand was raised, high in the air.

Floating.

What was it doing there, I wondered?

He was wondering, too.

“I don’t understand why you’re talking about those people. They’re not even here.”

“Why should I stop?”

“Because that’s the way I was brought up.”

He froze.

The chameleon, no longer camouflaged, seemed to have startled him.

There was a long, sweet pause.

The tension that day in the classroom eventually subsided and, a few weeks later, the congregants of fifth period English were reintroduced to a less barfy, more maternal version of Ms. Jacobson.

Time has a way of passing.

• • •

While I am uneasy with the tidy conclusion that this short-lived experience in the classroom changed my life in a truly fundamental way, I do believe that publicly speaking out that day, against a person in a position of authority, helped shape my perspective of what it means to be engaged in a functioning, polite society.

Though I am loathe to overstate the importance of this singular event, this substitute teacher — a “negative experience” by all accounts — did help me realize that the social hierarchies and classes we are crammed into (e.g., “teacher,” “student”) are not by themselves sufficiently descriptive. We are so much more — or less, as they case may be — than mere titles suggest.

I guess I learned a little bit about The Great Gatsby after all.

Got any substitute teacher stories to share?

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece of writing for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

Interested but have questions? Email me!

My information is under the Contact Me tab.

L’il Miss Attitude

Every year, I study my new class rosters and practice saying the names aloud so I don’t sound like a total dork on the first day.

One year, I was feeling pretty good until I came to one particular name.

T-a.

I didn’t know what to do with it.

I mean, I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it. I tried a lot of different combinations.

Tee-ah? Tee-ay? Tah? Tay?

I had no idea. I figured the best thing to do would be to just admit defeat and ask the student to pronounce his or her name in class.

The first day of class came.

New students filed in and gravitated to the seats they liked the best. Some near the front, others farther back.

I introduced myself and began taking attendance, reading down the list, changing “James” to “Jim” and “Richard” to “Rick.” I even had the foresight to ask the student whose last name was Montague what he liked to be called. A good-looking chap in a baseball cap smiled at me and said, “Adam.” His name had appeared as “Bartholomew” on the roster. I didn’t want to embarrass him because his parents had made a bad choice 19 years earlier. Turns out, he went by his middle name.

Finally, I hit the dreaded name.

“Okay,” I said, “I am not sure how to properly pronounce this name, so I’m wondering if there is a person with the last name of Dinkens here today.”

The room was silent.

“Nobody here with the last name of Dinkens?” I repeated.

Someone clucked her tongue. “That’s me,” said a girl with her chin tilted up at a hard angle.

“I wasn’t sure how to pronounce your name, so I thought you could help me out,” I said.

“Why don’tchu try it?” L’il Miss Attitude asked, crossing her arms across her black and white striped tee shirt.

“Okay,” I said, “Is it Tee-ah?”

The girl made a sound like she had been annoyed with me since the moment I was born.

“Lord,” she said, “Don’t you know the dash ain’t silent? It’s TaDASHa.”

Silence swirled around me noisily. It was the first day of class. I had to set the tone, properly. I wasn’t mad at this girl, but I could not allow her to disrespect me, not right out of the gate. Seventeen billion thoughts on how to handle the situation occurred to me simultaneously ranging in severity.

While I was leaning toward a good old-fashioned paddling, I chose a stern voice.

“Are you a first year student here, Tadasha?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Tadasha said, chewing on her thumbnail.

“And is this your very first class on campus today?”

“Yeah.”

“And do you have a full-time schedule?”

“Yeah.”

“And how many other classes do you have today?”

“Three,” Tadasha snipped.

“And you are telling me no one has ever mispronounced or struggled with the pronunciation of your name in your entire life?”

“Bitch, where I live people know me.”

I thought my head was going to blow off my shoulders. Did I hear wrong or did a student in my classroom just call me a bitch? I felt like I was on some kind of bad reality TV show, you know the type where someone eventually jumps out as things escalate and tells the unsuspecting victim that he’s been punked? Except the clock kept ticking and no one seemed to be coming to my rescue, and I didn’t see any cameras. I had to do something.

Everyone was staring at me.

“Okay Tadasha,” I started, while moving to sit on top of my large iron desk. “Here are a few things for you to consider as you move through the rest of your day. First, I predict that this exact interaction is going to happen to you three more times today. And when you address the person who mispronounces your name — because it will be mispronounced — it would be wise for you to not address that person with profanity.” I looked my student in the eye: “Calling someone a ‘bitch’ is rarely the appropriate way to address another person whether in a classroom on a college campus or in life.”

Tadasha was silent.

Everyone turned to look at her.

Suddenly I realized I was playing a weird verbal tennis match, and I had obviously smacked the ball over to her side of the net.

Everyone was waiting to see if she was going to make a mad dash to return it.

She didn’t, so I kept going.

Full. Court. Press.

“Also, just so you know, you have an unusual name. The hyphen — or dash — as you called it, is generally silent. We don’t usually pronounce it. People may know you in the part of the world where you have lived for the last 18 or so years, but no one knows you on this campus, so if you want to have positive interactions today I recommend that you be kind. Try to have a sense of humor. No one wants to hurt you. On the first day, your teachers are just trying to figure out who is who. That’s all I was trying to do.”

Tadasha was glaring at me.

“Last, we have not started off well today, so I would suggest that you head down to the Registrar right now and get yourself enrolled in another section of Comp-101.”

Tadasha gathered her purse and her books and walked out of the class with her head held high.

She never came back, and I never saw her again.

I often wonder if Tadasha made it through the day. The week. The semester. If she graduated at all. I wonder about her hard edges. About how she had made it so far yet knew so little about how to interact with other people. Was she just scared? Did I blow it? Did I do her a favor? Or did I ruin her?

Who do you wonder about from your past? What do you imagine that person is doing now?

*names have been changed for obvious reasons