Good Teacher, Bad Teacher

Kenyon

 

On the first day of school, as I entered the third grade, the teachers were still on strike. I was too young to understand that even though my teacher was brand new she was my actual teacher. I spent the first two weeks of class panicked that she was only a substitute, and that my real teacher would come back after the strike was over.

I liked this teacher a lot. Her name was Mrs. Kenyon. You know what I remember the most about her? She liked The Beatles. In case you think I am exaggerating about my lifelong obsession, I used to write Beatles lyrics on the back of my spelling tests while I was waiting for the rest of the class to finish. Mrs. Kenyon would grade my test and complete the lyrics before handing it back to me.

That made her pretty awesome.

When I look back at all of my teachers, there are very few standouts. Plenty of them meant well. Most of them were good teachers who cared, they just didn’t have any great impact on me. That’s fine. Maybe they impacted someone else.

A couple of them stood out as being terrible. Some teachers clearly hate their jobs, and even their students. I had a science teacher in the seventh grade who hated me. My older sister had been a bit of a troublemaker for him, and he assumed I would be the same. He never even gave me a chance.

Mr. Masterka's class, circa 1990.

Mr. Masterka’s class, circa 1990.

My eighth grade science teacher, however, was legendary. Mr. Masterka. Most of the kids were scared of him. You were forced to learn something, because you were too afraid of not knowing the answer when he called your seat number and told you to stand up. During my time in his class I was only known as seat number 10. I was part of the blue section. Get your mind in! If you know what I am talking about, then we are part of a very exclusive club.

Ask me who the best teacher I had in high school was and I wouldn’t hesitate to give the award to Mr. Finn, my sophomore World History teacher. If a history teacher cannot keep students interested, they shouldn’t be teaching. Mr. Finn was a great storyteller. He also once made a deal with me that if I sang a World War One era song for the class he would give me an “A” for my oral report on the subject. I sang “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” He was the kind of teacher who makes you enjoy learning, and he did it with (what seemed like) little effort.

I had a French teacher, Mr. Cornelius, who proved to be one of the kindest teachers I have ever known. He also had some trouble with my older sister, but not only had he been forgiving toward her, but he was very supportive of me. Even though I never continued French beyond my freshman year, he continued to acknowledge me throughout my high school career. He even donated financial support to me the year I traveled the country after graduation.

During those childhood years everyone has a different experience. Some people find that their teachers had no real impact on their life. Some people believe that one teacher or coach made all the difference for them. Either way, I suspect all of us knew at least one teacher who was just really great at their job. And, chances are we never gave them credit for it.

The experience may read very different for parents. I had one teacher in high school who impressed my mom as caring about my lack of interest in physical science. She thought he was wonderful, but he wasn’t that interesting or helpful from my own point of view. He was probably a great guy, but I was happy to move on from his class.

Teghan at school, in her cubicle.

Teghan at school, in her cubicle.

This makes me wonder which teachers Teghan has a real connection with. It’s easy for us to know which ones we like, but it is not always the same from our kids’ perspective. Many people are better with children than adults, and some are quite the opposite. What appeals to us may mean nothing to her. She will have plenty of good teachers; what I worry about is that maybe there will be someone especially important in her world, and we will never be able to thank them for it.

So when thinking about writing this post I obviously wanted to name some teachers who deserve recognition for being incredible at what they do. It didn’t mean others weren’t great, they just didn’t impact me personally. But I also wanted to talk about the need to recognize what teachers make a difference from our children’s point of view and what it teaches us about our kids. I think it says a lot about where their interests lie and what methods work best for them. Some teachers will reveal those things in ways we never knew were possible.

I am going to do my best not to miss it. Or the opportunity to thank them for it.

 

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