Thursday, September 16, 2010

There is no way to capture the effect teachers can have on you

 It was a simple conversation in our living room when Madison (age 11), our oldest of nine grandchildren, said, in front of both her parents and grandparents, that she wanted to be home schooled.  As it turns out, one of her friends is home schooled, and I think Madison just thought it would be fun.  Asked how that would happen, she thought she would spend time on the Internet and watching television.  Both of her parents, without hesitation or reservation, told her directly that there was “no way that was going to happen.”  It was a message Madison had heard before; thus, she wasn’t surprised, but I used the opportunity to talk about teachers and their value. 

My first comment was how much knowledge and information teachers brought to their classrooms because of their individual preparation, background, and experiences.  What I wanted to do was impress Madison with the fact that there is no single person who can possibly represent all that preparation, background, and those experiences.  One of the tremendous advantages of school is having all those different teachers. 

My second comment was that you never know from where inspiration is going to come.  Teachers, in addition to sharing knowledge and information, are motivators and inspirers.  When students develop an interest in learning outside of or beyond the classroom, in general they can point to a single teacher who nurtured that interest.  It is precisely when that transition occurs that real education begins.  It is when that transition occurs that the teacher begins to reside within us, and we follow the directions of an inner voice, an inner educator, an inner motivator.  It is when that transition occurs that education becomes immediate, relevant, personal, and meaningful.  

Unfortunately, because of other things, our conversation about the value of teachers ended there.  It ended with some strong encouragement from Madison, who said, “Grandpa, you ought to write an essay on this topic.”  And that is the etymology of what you find here. 

As individuals, teachers did not make impressions on me until I was in junior high school.  They were all good, it seemed to me, and all of them taught me, motivated me, and inspired me.  I can’t think of a single negative experience I had with teachers during the entire course of my educational career.  Perhaps it was luck, but I think teachers like good students, and I was definitely a good student.  It wasn’t because I wanted to be “good”; it was because I loved to learn.  Everything just seemed so new, intriguing, and fascinating.  I was captivated. 

Ms. Irene Smith, one of my junior high school math teachers, would ask students questions, then she would stand to the side of the classroom, waiting for an answer, while she rolled chalk between the palms of her hands.  Each time the chalk crossed her wedding ring, it would made a loud click, as if she was counting the seconds before she asked the same question of another student.  It was as if we were in the military, and these were our daily drills.  I kept up with my homework, I liked math, and I learned to love being put on the spot.  I knew the answers, and although most students did not like Ms. Smith, I did. 

It was Mr. Snyder, my ninth grade social studies teacher, who truly guided my early interest in becoming a medical doctor.  The whole focus of his class was the preparation of a career notebook, and Mr. Snyder had us develop it throughout the term, in steps, and with his assistance.  It was wonderful, and I found Mr. Snyder not only supportive and encouraging, but he would continually suggest where additional resources could be found.  I always followed his leads, and I developed the largest, most impressive, and complete career notebook of any member of the class.  (That was one of my goals!)  This was a project I devoured, and I spent more time on Mr. Snyder’s project than I spent on anything related to school thus far. 

I never knew what subject he taught, but Mr. Marquart was the junior-high-school football coach.  I was in the ninth grade, and I decided to go out for football, but because I was so small, I was put on the “freshman” (seventh grade) team.  Because of my maturity—I was two years older than anyone else on the team—I was a starter, and it was Mr. Marquart who made me an end.  I could run and catch passes, but the beauty of our team was John Charles Morton.  We really didn’t need a quarterback, full back, or even an end.  If we just gave the ball to John Charles, he would make the touchdowns.  We were number one, and we never lost a game.  John Charles was not just the key to our success, he was the team, and I loved running interference for him for the few steps I could stay in front of him.  Because of my size, I would throw a block, and John Charles would pass me in an instant headed for the end zone. 

Mr. Barclay taught biology in junior high school, and every day was an inspiration.  In his droll, serious, and knowledgeable manner, he would direct our attention to so many fascinating aspects of science that class was full of amazing revelations.  We dissected mice and birds; we drew pictures of what we dissected; and we learned so much about life and the way our bodies worked.  He did not teach by lecturing; his method was to demonstrate.  And he immersed his students in the wonders of life and all of its facets. 

Mr. Barclay served as a reference for all of my future science teachers.  In college, I created a notebook of leaves in botany, a notebook of all the constellations for astronomy, and I had a notebook—actually a workbook—in zoology which allowed me to draw all the organs of the bodies in the numerous dissections in which we engaged.  I loved science, and it is a credit to Mr. Barclay and his enthusiasm for biology that paved the way for my continuing interest. 

One of my outstanding teachers, too, was Mr. Granville, my ninth grade English teacher.  It was advanced English, and Mr. Granville, a very small, stout, gentle man, offered me some of the most profound and encouraging advice of any teacher I had had.  He said that I had the gift of a writer, and if I studied hard, wrote a lot, and pursued my studies with zeal (he liked that word!), that I could be a successful, accomplished, and satisfied writer.  Mr. Granville was a walker—it kept him thin—and it was a sad day when I learned that he had died of a heart attack on one of his daily walks. 

These are some of the teachers I had before I arrived at college.  I know my parents could have home schooled me if they had chosen to because both were teachers, but I would never trade the knowledge, background, and preparation of even these few teachers for what might have been a home-schooling experience.  It was from these teachers that my inspiration for learning began. 


At the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) website <>, there is a long essay, “The Influence of Teachers---On Rewriting, Character Education, and the Future of America,” by John Merrow.  In the first paragraph, Merrow writes, “So it was to my great surprise when, in 2006, 40 years after I last entered a Schreiber classroom, some former students invited me to their 40th high school reunion. How could they possibly remember me, I thought? And how could I turn down such an opportunity? I accepted the invitation and prepared myself for a sentimental stroll down memory lane. What the day ended up offering me, however, was something altogether different: a powerful reminder of the lasting influence teachers have on the lives of the young, as well as some insights into where education in this democratic nation has missed the mark in recent years.”  That is what Merrow’s essay is all about. 

At The Quad, the student newspaper of West Chester University <>,   there is an interesting and powerful essay, “Teachers have a continuing influence on students,” by Suzanne Brady, which she ends by saying, “[I]want to aim high in my life and hope that teachers and parents will realize how much of an influence they are on our future leaders of America. Please keep in mind that our students and children today are our future leaders of America. We need to help them stay motivated and learn as much as they can. There is a great amount of knowledge out there that is available to our students and we need to help instill that yearning in our students for the good of every generation to come.”  This is an enjoyable essay to read. 


Copyright September, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.

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