Thursday, March 10, 2016

That One Teacher (who changed my life forever)

We all have that one teacher.  The teacher who changed our lives forever.  It is impossible to know that moment when it happens, but there is one teacher in particular who made an impression at a time I needed it most.  There is no telling how my life would be different were it not for my 6th grade teacher, Brian Clyne.  When I read Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess, I actually wondered if Mr. Clyne had just changed his name.

Several years ago, I went through a very trying year.  I was in my second year of teaching and stuck between a rock and a hard place professionally.  I had an inaccessible mentor and an administrator who had differing opinions on what I should be doing in the classroom.  I was new at this and worked tirelessly to please both of them, to no avail.  I learned the hard way that trying to please two people is like having two #1 goals--you have to pick one or lose at both.  Maybe I'll write more about that another time.  Maybe I won't.  The good news is that I landed on my feet the next year in a much better place.

Once I had my footing, I really began to appreciate all the amazing teachers I had learned from.  The things I learned from them often pop up when I least expect it and usually have nothing to do with the lesson itself.  Every once in a while, I see a glimpse of my younger self sitting in my classroom and remember the power that goes along with my position.

It was after one of those days when I finally found Mr. Clyne to thank him personally for all he had done for me.

"I have been trying to find you for some time, to let you know how much your teaching meant to me. In writing this, I wonder if you will remember me. I wonder if you remember me as the girl with so much potential, if she didn't feel so invisible. You came into my life at such a tumultuous time. My parents had divorced, my mother was in the midst of reliving her youth with the man who would become her 2nd ex-husband. I always liked school, but hadn't cared about it for over a year by the time I arrived in your sixth grade classroom at Auburn Elementary in 1995. You were exactly the kind of teacher I needed at that point in my life. You taught me that my voice mattered, even if the only person I wrote to was myself. Most importantly, you never belittled me for trying to control the few things in my life I had influence over, which, unfortunately, resulted in me not being at school very much or completing much schoolwork. In the years following, my sisters turned to boys and bad habits. I turned to writing and I began to believe in myself. I graduated from high school in the top 10% of my class and set off to KU to major in education.

Now, I am working as a Special Education Math teacher at a realatively small high school in Missouri (about an hour outside St. Louis). I tell my students stories of how I learned about probability through Blackjack and how to add and subtract fractions using the Stock Market. I'm still trying to figure out how to work Marsville [quite possibly the coolest project ever] into my math curriculum, but I've got plastic sheeting and duct tape in my cabinet for when the moment strikes.

The other day, one of my students had his head down on the desk. I walked over, and instead of lecturing him on getting back to work, I knelt down and asked him "How are you doing today?" Turns out, his mother was in the hospital and he hadn't slept at all. So I told him he could put his head back down for as long as he needed. Those are the things they don't teach you in education classes, so I count myself lucky that I had a few amazing teachers to learn from. Teachers who were mentoring a person, rather than preparing for a test score. In the last 3 years in the classroom, I have found being a great teacher is not always valued by other staff and administration, which makes me appreciate it even more.

Sorry it has taken so long for me to tell you all of this. I'm just glad I am finally able to share it with you."

There are several of these teachers.  I need to make sure they know the difference they made too.  In the meantime--Thank you.

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