August 1, 2006

Teachers I Could Blame: Honoring My Mentors

After reading California Teacher Guy's take on some harsh words by Linda Chavez, the devil in me realized that if we have inadequate teachers in our classrooms, we only have their teachers to blame. If I'm ever blamed for being inadequate, I think I'll try pointing my finger at my teachers. Ha! That thought just cracks me up!

Yes, in my opinion, I've had some terrible teachers. Mostly I can't even remember their names, so over the years I've spent most of my energy appreciating the teachers who've influenced. I'll gladly blame each of them for the positive influences they each contributed to my life.

In college, there was Dr. Davis, with whom I had at least one class each quarter. Sure, I took some useless classes from him (like an entire class on Yeats), but I spent years in his round table-like classes discussing the craft of teaching writing and literature. I avoided disappointing Dr. Davis and respected his opinion above all. The best thing about him was that he practiced innovative techniques himself, and we all learned through trial and error together. If he hadn't retired, he would have certainly been one of the first to use the technologies educators are experimenting with now.

In high school, Mrs. Forsgren conducted her classroom with a casual yet commanding air. She convinced me to join the debate team, and although I was never successful in any event or competition, I believe her encouragement released me from my shyness, and that has...well, just helped me in life. (Years later Mrs. Forsgren and I were in a community play together. That couldn't have happened without her years before.)

In high school there was also my newspaper advisor, Mrs. Johnson, who taught me a lot on the bare bones level and managed to make a cohesive staff with a wide range of personalities. I learned to accept people for who they were. Oh! And let's not forget Mr. Gillman, a crazy chemistry teacher, who taught me more chemistry than my right-leaning brain thought it could handle. In fact, about 7 years later when I took it as an entry level college class, I was surprised how much I already knew.

During my junior high experience (things are starting to get fuzzy here), Mrs. Murphy really stands out. She was such a great teacher that we kept in touch while I was in college, and neither of us could wait for me to do my student teaching with her. Of course, she was a great mentor to me as a teenager and as a practicing teacher.

In elementary school, I had two old cowboys, Mr. Redden and Mr. Gamble, who were both strict and a little scary at times. I can still see in my mind's eye Mr. Redden's paddle displayed prominently on the chalkboard. I wouldn't call these two teachers passionate about education--they were certainly not your average Ron Clark--but they were serious about it, and they expected the same from us. Plus, when we students were good, these good ole teachers could tell some good stories and jokes.

Oh, and I cannot forget Miss Heeney, who contained a nice balance of control and fun. She had interesting ways of dealing with us when we were bad. I'm digging pretty deep into my past here, so I cannot remember many details of her class, but she also turned out to be a life-long mentor for me in my heart.

I have expressed my gratitude to some of these teachers, but to others I've never had the opportunity. Nonetheless, they helped shape who I am as a person and as a teacher. If I'm ever blamed for being an inadequate teacher, it wouldn't be because of these great mentors!

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