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March 25, 2013

Inspiring teachers

Filed under: education,New Broads,students,Uncategorized — by maggiec @ 5:24 pm
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A teacher I had in middle school, 5th grade to be precise, reached out and said hello to me on Facebook. This is why I love social media, because now I can say a proper thank you. The teacher, Mrs. Helen Willette, of George C Fisher Middle School, Carmel, New York, is one I quote every single term I teach.

She taught me, us, that if we started to read a book and didn’t like it, we should give it 50 pages. If we still weren’t caught up in it, we could honorably give up. Unless it was an assigned text, then we read it, end of story. This is something I tell my mostly non-reading students. And it’s a rule I live by. Many’s the time I’ve limped through 39 pages of text, cursing Mrs. Willette, then I look up and realize I’m on page 75 and loving the book. Then I bless her.  But there are many books that I’ve stopped reading at page 51, happy that I tried, but knowing I don’t have to finish every book I start.

She taught us how to write vocabulary lists with a hanging indent so that words could be easily found in our notebooks. This is something I do and share with students.

She taught me neatness counts!

Mrs. Willette stands out for me because, surprising disclosure from a college professor, I hated school. I out and out hated going to school, and the middle school years were the absolute worst part. I didn’t mind the social aspects some of the time, but the rest?  No.  In fact, I didn’t start to enjoy school until my junior year in college. By then, I had choice, freedom, and I could focus on things I cared about.

Years later, when my son was in school and being tested for learning disabilities, it was discovered that not only do I have ADHD, I’m also dyslexic and have mild dyscalculia, but when I was in school these were not common words. I was lazy, underachieving, distracted, not working to my full potential. Of course I wasn’t. I was bored most of the time or confused at others, but because I was “bright,” every one thought I was a slacker.  Well, in retrospect I was. I could get by with little work, so I did.

It’s not a coincidence that my favorite teachers, the ones who inspired me, were for the most part English teachers. In spite of the dyslexia I was an avid reader and a half-way decent writer.  I did well in their classes, so I was an easier student, I guess.  I remember one math teacher who really encouraged me and worked with me, Mr. Anthony Iannotta. For the rest, I suspect I was just another kid in the class.

Mrs. Willette isn’t the only teacher who inspired me, but she’s one of the first. She challenged me in a good way.

My freshman English teacher, Mrs. Zenobia Bellert and my senior English teacher, Mrs. Janet Canniff, also taught me things I use in my classroom today.  Doc Kellas, our orchestra teacher, was a cool cat I adored because he talked to us differently than most teachers. I suspect he liked me because I ended going up going to a college where his aunt had been president, but I was frankly a lousy musician.  I had biology teachers who inspired me and challenged me, as well, as I wanted to be a pediatrician when I was in high school, but it’s the English teachers I quote today.

I was thrilled when I saw the message on Facebook. I was honored to have been remembered after so many long years.

These teachers inspired me, goaded me, brought out the best in me.  If I can enrich my students’ lives as much as they did mine, I will consider myself as success as a teacher.

And these are the people who help me see my students as people, as individuals. It’s so easy to just process them in, process them out.  A new batch every 15 weeks, face after face after face. I try to resist that lack of connection. It’s a two way street, of course. Some of my students don’t want to actually engage with me, but I try to be present when I’m with them. I try to care about them as people.

But I felt like a name and a face to many of my teachers, most of whom were quite adequate.  I don’t mean to damn with faint praise. Maybe I just didn’t inspire them. I was relatively well educated for a public school in a mostly blue collar area that cared more for the football team than academics. There were a few troublemakers in my class, and they often pulled attention from the other students.  I felt sorry for a lot of my teachers even then.  Most were lovely people who were diligent at what they did, and I’m leaving out a lot of names of good teachers only because it would be a roll call. And I can’t remember how to spell some of them, I admit.

And my aim here is not to call out the less than inspiring teachers, but to praise the good ones.

Teaching is hard. Teaching is much harder than our society gives it credit for, and inspiring children who are scared, confused, bored and unhappy has got to be a minor miracle.

I’d like to say thank you to the miracle workers who got a young girl to realize that she could achieve things in life.  I haven’t done all I’ve wanted to yet, but thanks to those inspiring teachers, I’ve done a lot more than I ever expected.


1 Comment »

  1. Well, you really made me feel 10 feet tall! I was coaxed by my beloved brother, to become a librarian & go to Japan to follow that career. But since I was a little girl, I loved to play “teacher”, & continued to love my profession until the day I retired. What you have written & shared with me tonight makes me feel like a millionaire. Thank you so much, & please keep in touch, Professor Conner :)XOXOXO Helen Willette

    Comment by helen — March 25, 2013 @ 9:26 pm |Reply

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