How Important is a Teacher?

I was in the fourth grade before I had a teacher that liked me. Looking back, I'm not sure why. I was shy and awkward, but I wasn't a trouble maker, I didn't talk in class, and I tried hard. It's perplexing to me, even to this day, that I was yelled at and disliked.

I can almost excuse my first and second grade teachers. They were, after all, teaching their last year before retirement.

They were probably tired of children and anxious for the year to end and generally yelled at the entire class. It's third grade that still haunts me.

I remember walking into the class and seeing a young and pretty teacher. Finally, I would have a teacher that wasn't at the end of her career and would be pleasant and energetic. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was a target. Miss D. would call on me, even if I hadn't raised my hand, and then if I didn't know the answer, or didn't speak up loudly enough (which is hard for a timid, little girl), she would yell at me.

It may just be selective memory, but I don't remember her yelling at other kids. My first and second grade teachers I remember, but to me, it seemed Miss D. focused her wrath on me. I remember the throb in my head and the sting of tears springing to my eyes when she knuckled me on the top of my head as she made her rounds through the desks. I might have been looking out the window or daydreaming, I can't remember, but knuckling an eight year-old in the head?

I should insert a note here. My parents weren't happy about it, but times were different then. Parents generally made less of a fuss than they do now and my dad was a school teacher in the district. They were concerned about the ramifications of making waves. In hindsight, they wish they'd have insisted I be removed from the class instead of trying to diplomatically visit with her.

Toward the end of the school year, Miss D.'s dislike for me boiled over. I went to the bathroom and as I was washing my hands, she stormed into the bathroom, pulled my hair and threw me into wall. I started to cry, my hands dripping as I held them up to shield myself from her anger as she screamed in my face, demanding to know why I'd taken so long in the bathroom. I was terrified.

I see so many answers in those first three years of school. Why did the fairly bright daughter of a school teacher dislike school so much? Why was I willing to lie and feign illness to stay home from school? Why didn't I start getting straight A's until my senior year of high school and college? There is substantial evidence that I wasn't a stupid child, and yet, I struggled with school until I was nearly an adult. My poor mother, little kids in tow, made more trips to schools to pick up her "sick" daughter than she ever should have had to.

Fast forward to Mrs. Schvandevelt, Bruce and Veronica's kindergarten teacher. On the first day of school, she excused the children to go outside and play with an aid so that she could discuss some housekeeping matters with the parents. After going over a few things, she said, "I want your children to love school. I think kindergarten is the time to develop good feelings about school. I want your kids to know that there is NOTHING that happens that can't be fixed. If they forget their backpack, I have a plastic bag they can use. If they forget their library book, they can bring it tomorrow. If they're talking too much, we'll just wait for them with a smile on our face. They'll know there is nothing to be scared of at school."

I sat there blinking hard, swallowing hard, desperately trying to keep the tears at bay. A wave of relief washed over me as I realized my kids wouldn't have the same school experience that I had. And guess what? They loved school. They hated missing. They never pretended to be sick or asked to come home early. They learned and got good grades.

Does a teacher make a difference? Absolutely, YES!

Thank heavens for good teachers.


Rich said...

Karey - Good post. You weren't the only one who thought Miss D. was pretty hard to deal with. I worked with her as a colleague twenty years later, and she had mellowed a little. My oldest daughter had a similar experience a few years ago with another teacher on the verge of retirement.

Hopefully most of us in the profession realize the profound impact we have on a student's educational path.

Anonymous said...

Your point is well taken. Clearly you were abused and subjected to the caprices of tyrants, which is a tragedy and a crime. Still, I wonder if the pendulum hasn't swung a bit too far the other way. I think it's good for children to learn to be responsible and to experience consequences. And I don't think the long-winded should be allowed to ramble on until they've exhausted themselves and their listeners. I worked as a substitute teacher for a year, sometimes teaching the same class for a number of weeks, and the biggest impediment to learning was discipline. One or two unruly children would use up too much of the class's time and the teacher's energy. I don't know what the solution is. I think brutality such as you experienced is counterproductive and wrong, but there ought to be a middle ground between that and indulgence.

Karey said...

While I definitely agree that there needs to be discipline, I don't think there's ever a place for physical abuse or screaming. I loved that my children's kindergarten teacher was all about loving the kids and making sure they started out loving school. Beyond kindergarten (and even in kindergarten), there needs to be discipline in the classroom, but never abuse.

The children's teachers I've liked the most were teachers who demanded good behavior and provided structure and kindness. I don't think it has to be one or the other.