Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Our district held a reception for newly minted and research-sharing National Board Certified Teachers last week. I attended as a newly minted. Guests were congratulated and asked to recall a special teacher and share with tablemates what made that teacher so memorable. Great stories abounded. Each teacher mentioned seemed to have the ability to bring out the best in their students. A premise of the National Board for Teaching is effective teachers help students achieve no matter the challenge because they have high expectations for their students. The common thread woven through all our stories was in fact, the high expectation placed on us by those master teachers.

The teacher I remembered immediately- Virginia Hamilton (not the author) of Goodrich Jr. High School, Lincoln, Nebraska. I had her for 7th grade English. She was passionate about mythology. She wasn't chic like our mini-skirted Miss Adams, who was a runway model in the off-season. She wasn't hip and cool like Mr. H., our long-haired, liberal minded student teacher in social studies who let us call him Bruce and who was subsisting on $1.00 a day for food because he wanted to experience what people below the poverty level (this was 1969) were experiencing. She wasn't smart-alecky and witty like Miss Michaels our crazy art teacher. She was a little corny, middle-aged, suited, hairsprayed, had a high pitched voice, and had the nerve to insist we do our readings (yikes) no matter how archaic the language of the text (Beowulf...double yikes). She had the ability to light Olympic torches in our literature-feeble, middle school-aged brains. We read Beowulf and pictured Grendel, the great hall, and drank non-fermented mead. Just thinking it could be fermented was tantalizing. We read Greek and Roman mythology and learned about love, scandal, hubris and tragedy in the world of gods, goddesses, and humans. Tabloid news before tabloid news. We found that year in English class interesting, relevant, and unexpectedly fun. We rewarded Mrs. Hamilton's efforts by naming the mascot of our newly opened school, "The Olympians" in her honor. As she reminded us, Goodrich was perched on a hill (Mt. Olympus to us) called Belmont whose name had Latin/Roman origins. It's almost 40 years later and these images are fresh. Her lessons and passion are fresh.

As teachers it's not often we get feedback on our abilities from our biggest audience, our students. Here's your chance. Share your story about a great teacher who left you with indelible memories. Comment on!


Jeff said...

Mr. Riddick was my 11th grade history teacher. He taught me a number of things about history:

1) It can and should be a story. It's the stories that grab students. But there's important learning that happens in those stories: class and racial conflicts, struggles over power, legal and social issues.

2) The appropriate curse word can make a real impact, if timed and judged correctly for the audience. [Obviously this works much better at the high school or college level.]

3) Sarcasm is actually a useful teaching methodology, if deployed in a limited way.

4) Encouraging smart students means challenging them, while at the same time not making less proficient students feel left out. This is a tough balance, but very, very crucial.

5) History is relevant. Make it relevant to your students.

He is, in many ways, the reason I am currently a teacher of history today.

[And not incidentally, congratulations to you for your National Board Certification. You deserve it in a way few people do.]

Jenny said...

First of all, congratulations again. I'm so sorry to have missed that event because I wanted to see you recognized.

I have to reference a history teacher as well. Mrs. Davis was my AP US history teacher my junior year. She was near retirement and took no guff from anyone. She pushed us hard and I don't think I earned anything higher than a C from her all year. But I'll never forget debating the positive/negative effects of Reconstruction. We all walked in with the same opinion and she asked a handful of us to argue the other side. By the end of class every one of us had changed our minds. She was a guide and a facilitator. We worked together and it was powerful. I earned a 4 on the AP test thanks to her.

Plus, she kept records on things for each student and asked us to fill out a series of questions as seniors so that she could write college recommendation letters that were meaningful. I still have mine.

JM said...

Congratulations, Charlene!
And thank you for a great opportunity to share.

Mrs. D (who still works in the FCPS system) was my first grade teacher. YES - my first grade teacher. I remember her so vividly and with much admiration. In first grade she was funny, warm, and was always making learning interesting, challenging, and exciting. She is, in fact, the reason I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Starting way back in first grade.

In eighth grade I chose her as the focus for career day. I followed her around for a day - in a whole new light, getting a glimpse of the planning and true work that goes into education.

In grade twelve I became a mentor for one of her first grade students. I worked with her to create games and activities to reach a student who needed some guidance and a little one-on-one time.

In college I was a substitute for her first grade class, and for her husbands class across county. Through sub plans, classroom setup, and the classroom environment (even when she was absent) showed me how much of herself she put into her "children."

In Graduate School I keep in contact with Mrs. D. She was the subject on my entrance essay, and is often the topic of my "I know this teacher that..." stories.

Through emails, letters, and phone calls, I stay in touch with my inspiration. I sent her my entrance essay to show her how truly influential she has been in my life... since way back in first grade.

Blink said...

Jeff- reading your comments made me think of my brother-in-law, a wonderful history teacher and a guy who possesses many of the qualities you list here. I'm sure his students will remember him past their high school days. Thanks for the congrats, too. Nice of you.

Blink said...

Jenny-your history teacher sounds masterful. Learning how to debate an issue requires so much critical thinking and is such a lifelong skill!Love the idea of asking questions of her seniors. Here I am learning from her now! Great snapshot.

Blink said...

JM- I'm jealous you have a chance to actually talk to your mentor/fave teacher. I'd love to be able to tell Mrs. Hamilton what an impact she had on me. From what I can see in your practice, Mrs. D would be proud.

sexy said...