Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Favorite Teacher

       My favorite teacher wasn't supposed to be my favorite teacher.

       I heard he was tough.  I heard he makes you write a lot.  I heard there was a lot of reading in his class.  One person said he was mean.

       He was my 7th grade English teacher.  I was 12 years old.  When I got my class schedule for the year, I started to ask friends if they knew any of my teachers.  The comments about this teacher (it seemed) were all bad.  Of course, at 12 years old, when I said things such as, "Everyone says he's a mean teacher.", what I really meant was, "The extremely small number of 13 year old boys (3) that I spoke with about this said he was mean."

       But they were my friends and I believed them, so when the first day of school came I was worried about this teacher and this class.  His class was third period and up to that point in the day, everything had gone pretty well.  I entered his class with a more than a little concern.

       He let us sit anywhere we wanted to sit.  He gave each of us a number and then told us to sit at the desk that had that number.  So all of us got up out of our seats (after just two minutes in the class) and moved to a different seat.  After that, he had each of us "meet" the two people who were sitting next to us.  Then we went around the room and each student said something about one of the students sitting next to us.  Then he told us about himself.  But instead of saying how many years he was a teacher and how much he loved English (which is the sort of introduction that most teachers give) he told us that he had three sisters, he weighed 265 pounds, and he liked to go bow hunting for deer.

       I actually remember more about that first class, but the point is his class was all about relationships.  He wanted to get to know us and he wanted us to get to know each other.  Everyday as students walked into his class he would ask us specific questions about things we were interested in and some students would ask him about things that he was interested in.  Our class involved a lot of discussions and he always linked these discussions to something the someone (or many of us) were interested in.  He never made a big deal about grades.  He never put anyone down for getting a bad grade or even for failing to complete an assignment on time.  If students earned a "D" or an "F" (and some did) he didn't get mad at them.  In fact, one student in particular who failed his class seemed to have a great relationship with him.

       We did do a lot of writing and we did do a lot of reading.  It was an ENGLISH class [!].  That's what you do in an English class.  My friends' opinions of what determined "a lot" probably meant that they didn't want to do any writing and reading.  Another thing that he often did was to not accept the first answer or idea that a student put forth.  He wanted many ideas; or he wanted us to be able to expand on our ideas.  The goal in his class was learning.  It wasn't "answering questions".  We didn't earn "points" for cleaning the chalkboard or for not using all of our bathroom passes.  We only earned grades for good writing and good thinking (participation).  This was probably the part my friends referred to as "being mean", since they were generally pretty good at "earning" good grades while learning very little.  Those techniques probably didn't work in his class.

       I didn't refer to this person as "My favorite teacher" until years later--after high school.  And the reason he was my favorite was because he didn't belittle us.  He pushed us to do our best.  Some were more ready for that "push" than others, but all of us knew that we couldn't just slide by and earn a high grade in his class without producing something of quality.

       My favorite teacher wasn't a popular teacher; he wasn't a coach of a sports team; he made us laugh from time to time, but he wasn't known as a "fun" teacher.  He probably didn't care about being liked.  He was firm and fair.  He spoke to his students in pretty much the same way he spoke to our parents.  He knew what he was doing and he had a reason for everything he asked us to do.

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