The best teachers I ever had

In honor of teacher appreciation week, I have decided to take a minute to reflect on the best teachers I’ve had throughout my schooling career and thank them for their dedication to our craft.

  1.  Ms. Duncan  2nd grade.  I can’t imagine having the patience to teach 2nd grade.  Ms. Duncan did.  A ton of it.  And I remember loving school in 2nd grade.  I had a hernia operation in second grade and was out of school for at least a week.  Ms. Duncan had the whole class make me cards and sent them to me.  She understood the idea of a class community more than I could imagine.
  2. Mrs. Davis 5th grade social studies.  I remember this class was social studies, but I legitimately have no idea what exactly I learned in that class.  What I remember is the kindness that Mrs. Davis exuded to a room full of 10 year olds.  Teachers are always under-appreciated, but sometimes I think Elementary teachers are even more under-appreciated in the fact that by the time we are old enough to recognize the impact of teachers, we have forgotten these early ones.  I won’t forget the genuinely kind spirit of Mrs. Davis.
  3. Mr. Psirganios (I bet I’m spelling that incorrectly) 7th grade social studies.  Mr. Psirganios was an old Greek man who retired at the end of the year that I had him.  He was old school in the sense that he was all about memorization.  I distinctly remember getting blank maps of the continents and having to fill in the names of every country and its capital city.  (This is oddly still fun to do.  Try naming all 196 countries in under 12 minutes here: http://www.jetpunk.com/quizzes/how-many-countries-can-you-name.php.  My wife can do this somehow.  I would have been able to do it well in 7th grade.)  I remember the way that he made me love history.  He was a story teller and he always kept me fascinated.  I don’t even know if he is still alive, but if he is I’d love to sit and have a cup of coffee with him.  Talk about a guy who could bring history alive.
  4. Ms. Ellis 8th grade social studies and language arts.  Apparently I really liked my social studies teachers in middle school.  Who knew?  Ms. Ellis was the teacher of the year the year that I had her, and she was well deserving.  She is probably one of the most creative teachers I’ve ever had.  It was the late 90’s but she had this student centered learning thing down.
  5. Mr. O’Reilly 9th grade world history.  Hey, another social studies teacher!  For a full semester, Mr. O’Reilly spent most days in the front of the room talking to the room full of freshman.  And he was probably the most riveting lecturer I’ve ever seen.  He was no Ms. Ellis; this wasn’t a very student centered class, but I don’t care.  I loved going to that class every day.
  6. Ms. DeCosta 10th grade English.  Ms. DeCosta was probably the most demanding teacher I ever had.  The only B I ever got in English was her class–an 89 first term.  I worked absurdly hard in her class, and I’m a better reader, better writer, and better student because of it.
  7. Mr. Mitchell 11th grade US History.  I considered becoming a history teacher instead of an English teacher in large part because of Mr. Mitchell’s class.  We did not learn about the major events of US history.  We didn’t study the battles of the Civil War or anything of that nature.  Instead we focused on social history.  Mr. Mitchell put history in a whole new context for me, and I thank him for that.
  8. Mr. Cofrin AP psychology.  Mr. Cofrin taught me more than I could imagine in terms of his subject matter.  You want to talk about a teacher who knew how to prepare students for the AP exam?  Then you need to be talking about Mr. Cofrin.  He passed away a few years ago, but I learned an awful lot from this man.
  9. Mr. Gaucher 12th grade English.  I learned a great deal from him about writing, and a lot more about being true to yourself.  Mr. Gaucher lives by himself with his cats and he had cat stories every day.  He is an Anglophile through and through and obsessed with the Titanic.  Mr. Gaucher is the consummate nerd and not afraid to be who he is, and I appreciate him for that.  He’s actually my boss now, but he’s still the dorky teacher I knew and loved.
  10. My mom 12th grade English and life in general.  I had my mother for the second semester of senior English–the study of British literature.  Her love of British literature is infectious, and I might be biased but her genuine kindness and love for her students is incredible.  I would be remiss to forget all the important things she taught me outside of her classroom.  There is not nearly enough room to mention all that she has done to shape me in to the man I am today.
  11. Father Gribble Intro to Religion Freshman year of college.  Father Gribble’s class was the first one I ever walked into in college.  His passion and dedication to his students is to be commended.  I learned a  great deal about religion and Catholicism specifically in his class.  I learned even more about being a student.
  12. Rita Smith multiple education courses in college.  Rita Smith was in charge of the secondary education program in college, and she is an eccentric woman.  When I became a teacher I was well versed in differentiation, UBD, formative assessment and the like.  I have Rita to thank for this.
  13. Tony Modica Creating Inclusive Learning Environments sophomore year of college.  The very first day of class, he looked at me and asked “Why should I hire you as a tecaher?”  I didn’t have an answer then.  I did by the end of class.  He was awesome.  It’s as simple as that.
  14. Wendy Peek-Chaucer and Mythology sophomore and junior years of college.  I had no idea what it really mean to read and write as a college student until Professor Peek’s classes.  I saw literature in a whole new way after her classes.  I didn’t know I would find Chaucer or The Illiad to be so intellectually stimulating until her classes.
  15. My colleagues.  Even though I have not sat in on most of their classes, I love to talk shop with them.  My colleagues constantly inspire me to be a better teacher.

When I began this post, I was looking to make a simple top 10 list, but I soon realized that was practically impossible.  Even at 15, I know I am leaving out many teachers who influenced me greatly.  To all of them, I sincerely say thank you.

Who do I write for?

One of the things we don’t talk about enough when it comes to writing is who we are really writing for.  When I assign my students an essay rarely do I tell them who their intended audience should be, and I’m not so sure that when we are discussing academic writing we have ever truly clarified that.  Often times I hear teachers tell students to write as if their classmates are their audience, but then their classmates rarely actually read the essay.  Sometimes we make up an audience and tell them to pretend they are writing to congress or some such thing.  This sounds great in theory, but then, when we read the essay as the teacher, do we truly view it through the lens of a congressman?  If not, then really their audience is the teacher.

This got me to thinking about who I write this for.  I never had an intended audience in mind; I was just looking to clarify my own thoughts and put it out there.  I guess I assumed only other educators would be interested in what I have to say, but I know there are non-educators who read this as well.

Recently some of my students have found this blog since they seem to enjoy googling my name rather than writing their essays when we go to the computer lab.  In fact, we are going later today, so Hi Tommie, Zack, Matt, James, and Michael, and anyone else in my class who stumbles upon this.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand there is something almost embarrassing about having my students read and critique/tease me in class about my writing.  Especially when I want them working on something else.

On the other hand, there are some nice benefits too.  I like that they get to see that I write from time to time.  We ask students to write all the time, but we ourselves don’t do it nearly enough.  They can see my style, my voice, and my flaws as a writer.  Ultimately I think this is a good thing.   They also have too much fun picking apart my writing, but there are valuable skills inherent in that.  One of my students found an egregious error in parallel structure in one of my posts.  Since I taught them parallel structure, there is a sense of pride in knowing that he can identify it outside of a worksheet-even if it is in my own writing.

So to go back to the original purpose here: who do I write for?  I still don’t know if I have a good answer for that.  This started as a self reflective practice, but it’s developed beyond that some.  I like that I have colleagues who read this; I like that that I have non-educators who read this; and I think that I like that I have students who have read this.