Thursday, May 21, 2009

Your Favorite Teacher

The training I'm involved with right now has sparked memories of some of my favorite teachers. I remember one, Ms. Cutuly, who used to stand on her desk, ready to jump off if we couldn't get a grammar question right. I remember a professor in my undergrad program who taught us everything so that we understood it well enough to teach it, since she knew most of us were future teachers. She had no attendance policy, yet no one ever wanted to miss a day, for we covered tremendous amounts of material in a single class period (no fluff movies and wasteful activities for her!). I remember a professor I visited in her office, to get her to sign me out of a course I'd taken at another school. By the end of the conversation, she was willing to sign the form, but I was determined to take the course again, with her. And I don't regret it, for it was one of the most useful classes I have ever taken (both times I took it!).

Honestly, most of the time school has been the place where I could fill my self-esteem and feel somewhat useful. At home I was overlooked and out of place, and I was often told I was unlikely to amount to a whole lot. At school, I had teachers who thought the world of me, who told me I could be anything, and I couldn't wait to get to school every day so that I could live in that world again, one where I was a SOMEBODY.

But I know my experiences are likely different than yours. What engaged you as a student? What teachers did you love, and why? If you've been waiting for a chance to respond that doesn't include poetry, here's your chance. What makes teachers great? What did you most need as a student, and how did they meet your needs, encourage learning, and make you feel respected and valuable? I'd love to know...


  1. No favorites; pretty much all of my teachers were awesome.

    Though the one I most often reference is Mrs. Sturgeon, who taught my sixth grade homeroom class and covered math in the rotation. (My elementary school did rotation between math, science and language arts starting in fourth grade; I'm pretty sure the reason behind it was our wildly popular fourth grade science teacher.) She was the one who introduced the students to the Politically Correct Bedtime Stories; who refused to be referred to as short, and who despite being just over five feet tall could reliably get a confiscated baseball cap on top of the back cabinet in one try.

    Who else.... there was Mott Greene, from my college. I first met him in the Asian Classics class from the Honors Program, where he took us out under the cherry tree by one of the dorms the day we'd been assigned haiku, and where his response to having three students in the half-semester Noh class was to chase us out of the room when he was teaching the stuff we already knew so we could come in at the end and do the chant we'd been working on in that class anyway. But then he ended up as my thesis adviser--which doesn't seem too strange, until you consider the fact that my thesis was on the possibility of silicon-based life, and most of the biology department wouldn't touch it. He introduced me to A.G. Cairns-Smith, listened to my crazy ideas involving carbosilane snowflakes, and helped me recruit for the university gamelan on the side during my second semester as his advisee.

    Then there was Dolen Perkins-Valdez, from whom I took two semesters of creative writing that same year. She liked my stories; that alone I'd consider pretty memorable (particularly considering what a game I'd been making of subverting her 'no genre fiction' rule the first semester). And it was because of her class that I got the idea that resulted in starting my own blog, and she was the one who gave me a memorable quote about character concepts: "But if you try to adhere to a living person, you will fail, for that person must be killed."

  2. I loved school, was fond of a number of teachers, but don't know that any inspired me. The ones I remember the best were encouraging, but the most memorable were humorous. Haynes-san, even after twenty-eight years (God, I'm old) is still the one I remember more fondly. I'm sorry he's gone.

    I remember the funny ones, not because they inspired me but because they entertained me when I was learning. And I remember the teachers that were terrible.

  3. I never like learning; school was more a social event for me, I never took school seriously and learning never held my attention…
    I wish I could change that, if only I could go back and lean what I should have and focused myself to be ready for the future I wanted for myself. Rather than the one forced on me by my bad habits and lack of foresight, so in a way I forced it on myself and now I am paying the price…
    Keep up the good work and I hope you find your calling in life, one you can be happy and provide for your family.
    Best of luck…

  4. Wow, very different responses.

    Ravyn: How lucky you are that your experiences were so good, that your teachers across the board served you so well. I was lucky enough to have some brilliant ones, creative, encouraging, inspiring.

    Stephanie B: Too bad none inspired you--perhaps that is why you are not a teacher? I liked Haynes-san, too... and it is too bad he's gone. He was both brilliant and caring, and that is rare.

    Jeff King: Dude, I'm so sorry you didn't get to enjoy school while you had it. Maybe if your home life had stunk (like mine), you would have found more to love about it. Then again, I wouldn't wish my family on anyone (including myself)... And thanks so much for your good wishes... I hope all goes well for you, too!

  5. In my youth, I had a few teachers who challenged me and truly seemed to care. I fondly remember Mrs. Edwards, my fourth-grade teacher, who helped me transistion into a new school. Man, I was mad when she took maternity leave! I hope her son appreciated my sacrifice. In high school, Mr. Korkowski challenged me to write more and improve on my writing. He was sort of an odd duck in comparison to the other teachers, but he encouraged his students to explore what they could do beyond his classroom. Also, he had us read stories out loud. I loved getting into character for the readings. What great fun! Mr. Skog was a jewel. He was the first teacher who saw potential in me to go on to higher education and TOLD me so. Mr. Skog thought I should have studied political science. Truly, it's not for me, but my oldest nephew majored in Poli-Sci at UW. Go, Jono!

    Now that I am old and gray and back in school, I am loving it. I have had some wonderful teachers who are not only great instructors but great encouragers too. Theresa Markovich has helped me to see the potential of what I might become if I work hard enough. Kathy Kneifel and Kathryn Willestoft have given sound advice on how to obtain my goals and where I might go for the help I need to get there. These three ladies are a blessing to me.

    Last but not least is Dr. C. What a lovely lady she is! She is a wonderful teacher who challenges her students to see things differently and express our discoveries in our writing. I am a better writer because of her instruction.

    Yes, Shakespeare, I understand what you meant by being eager to get to school. No matter the age of the student, we need encouragement and guidance to find our way in life. I, too, have found my self-esteem through my success at school. I have a renewed confidence because of what I have achieved there. One instructor's comment is that this is why she remains doing what she does. For her, the reward in teaching is seeing the growth and change in her students. Wow! To have such satisfaction in one's work must be an amazing feeling. Truly, I congratulate these teachers for a job well done.