teaching at its finest

For those of you who know me, you know that I’m not, nor ever was, really excited about school.  I am the typical student that never wanted to go and would always try to figure out what ailment my parents would believe to let me stay out.  I didn’t study enough, was never fully interested in most of the material, and honestly, was rather bored with the entire institution of education.

Though I do take much of the responsibility for my lackadaisical attitude, I am not fully to blame.  For whatever reason I always seemed to draw the short end of the stick when being placed in classes each year.  Whether it was due to my lack of ability to test well or simply a lack of good teachers, I was not fortunate to sit in many classrooms filled with challenging material and great instruction.  Honestly, some adjectives I would use to describe most of my past teachers and professors would be: lazy, egotistical, emotional, burnt out, mediocre, unqualified, and inexperienced.   I know my mother would back me up on this.  I had a group of “real winners” that contributed to my apathy towards school and education.  I will not name names in this large group of individuals because I wouldn’t want to call them out for fear of who might be reading this and after all I am still a local girl.  But also, unfortunately, I can’t because many of them were so worthless I simply cannot remember their names.  I know this sounds harsh.

But I started thinking about this because over the weekend a large group of students managed to pull schedules together for a small reunion with an old highschool teacher of mine.  She was back in town after many years away and because of her impeccable teaching and lasting influence many of us wanted to catch up with her.  After all these years, her impressions have created in her former students a feeling that it was important to touch base with her again.  How remarkable!  This is what teaching is all about.

Because I have had so few truly great teachers in my life I wanted to take a moment and share my thoughts and appreciation for each of the individuals that I consider the best of my educational experience.  I wanted to share a little about what each has contributed to my life.

So here are the top five educators I have been privileged to know and learn from:

Mrs. Death – While the name sounds very scary, she really wasn’t.  She was, however, tough and expected students to achieve their full potential.  She was my first disciplinarian in a school setting.  It was my third grade year and for whatever reason I had decided it was time to come out of my shell, overcome my shyness and therefore talk incessantly to everyone all the time.  Mrs. Death had rules of the classroom which I defied every day and could probably still quote them even now because everyday at recess I was sitting on the side of the playground writing my three paragraph summary explaining them.  Then each night I would have to face my disappointed parents at home and have them sign it in order for me to return to her the next morning.  But throughout that year, I learned how to manage myself, how to respect authority, and how to distinguish between the time for play and the time for work.  She was the first person aside from my parents that showed me that there are consequences to your choices and actions.

Mr. Hope – I know you may be thinking right now “Death then Hope???”  I know, I know – I’m not kidding, these are truly their names…  Names aside, Mr. Hope taught me World History Honors when I was in 10th grade.  His unique methods of teaching history backwards seemed to capture the creativity that I was longing for in many other classes.  He heightened my awareness of the world and added a relevancy to it that I had not experienced before.  In order to do this he made every Friday “Current Events Friday.”  On this day each week we had to bring two up-to-date news articles about a foreign country from a newspaper or magazine and discuss them with the rest of the class.  By discussing the present and backtracking through history we found the answers to why things are the way they are.  We were able to relate it back.  We saw the effect before the cause.  And while he did focus us on some specific dates, mostly it was a case study of time periods and how the events of each have changed and shaped the world we live in today.  Up until this time, I thought history and social studies were boring and unnecessary, but because of his efforts and thought-provoking questions I could begin to see how our past is connected to our present and our future.

Ms. Dinsmore – As a piano player I found a love of music early on that has carried throughout my entire life.  Towards the end of elementary school, however, it overflowed into singing and chorus work.  And this leads me to my highschool chorus teacher Ms. Dinsmore (more affectionately called Ms. D).  This is the teacher referenced above for the small reunion this past weekend.  As we were discussing what an impact her class had made on each of our lives it started me thinking.  I learned so many things in this class about music and singing and that was important.  She expanded my appreciation for all types of music.  But even more so is how our class formed a special bond, we became a sort of family.  She created a safe environment where we could discuss our problems and share our feelings.  She taught us to be accepting and tolerant of each other’s differences and how all those differences can still create harmony, not only in our music but in our lives.  We just have to be willing to listen to each other.  When I came into her class, I was very content to blend in, to be the background singer.  However, she was never satisfied with that and was constantly on me to sing out and project my voice.  I think in her class is where I found my voice, not just with singing, but my voice in life.  I learned how to open up and how to reach deeper into my soul to bring more meaning to the music.  This in turn brought me to a deeper sense of understanding about myself.  Everything was relational.  And while I can’t remember the name of each and every song we performed, I do remember the stories behind them and how listening to each other was always the most important thing.

Mr. Stokem – The class – public speaking, when – my first year of college.  I was scared to death.  They say that the #1 greatest fear people have in this country is speaking in front of a group.  And I will say I feel I’m in the majority on that one.  Being placed in the center of attention is not where I’m comfortable.  But Mr. Stokem created a supportive atmosphere in our class.  He kept stressing that its not always what you say, but how you say it that matters.  He was consistently kind in his remarks and never offered criticism in a condescending tone.  He was patient and thoughtful with our worries.  We all felt like a team cheering each other on through our speeches.  I took from that class a confidence that I could do anything I set my mind to do and that in finding my courage to speak in front of others I also found the courage necessary as I continued to further my education and build my career.

Dr. Feehan – So the student that hated school just couldn’t quit after I got started.  I continued on to graduate school where I came under the instruction and guidance of Dr. Feehan.  My graduate degree is in Library and Information Science and the two classes with Dr. Feehan remain among my favorite school memories ever.  I took a children’s programming class and a library management class with her.  Between these two I gathered that its okay to have fun with what you do.  Here I was 23 years old and making puppets out of scraps in the programming class.  I would have never, ever thought I would be performing a puppet show in front of a graduate level audience.  But sometimes it really can be fun just to have fun and be stupid.  The library management class was full of all things common sense, but it was reassuring to hear from an experienced professional and her own adventures in library world.  One of the key items she would say to us repeatedly was to look hard at all the supervisors we’ve had, observe them, decide what we did and didn’t like about their management style, and then what you didn’t like – DON’T DO in the future!!  Again, common sense, but the way she embraced the spirit of management fired me up about the endless possibilities that can be accomplished under a good manager.  I only hope that one day I will live up to her lectures.

These five teachers represent the best of my education.  Though I probably didn’t think so at the time, looking back, these teachers have left a great impression on my life.  Not because they taught me multiplication tables or about historical events or music theory, but because they made an effort to teach me something greater than what is found in a textbook.  They helped me learn more about myself and the world around me.  They challenged me not only in the classroom but also to take the lessons outside and apply them to my life in order to make them real, make them last.  I think then, and only then, do we experience teaching at its finest.

I am very thankful to have had these teachers, as few as they are, as part of my education.  I feel that despite all my other not-so-great experiences, I learned a tremendous amount about the world we live in, how we perceive it, and how to improve myself in order to help improve it.

My Spot of Thankfulness is for these five individuals because of their creativity and obvious love of teaching.  It is a difficult profession but one that lives on through the lives of their students.  In my case, they took an apathetic student and turned me into a more aware, interested and critical thinker.  What an achievement!

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