The Greatest Teachers

Posted: March 28, 2016 in Classroom, Education, Inspiration, Things I Love
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We’ve all had teachers that have had significant impacts on our lives, haven’t we? The best teachers are the ones that really care about their students. Not just certain students, but all of them. And kids can tell if a teacher doesn’t like their job, right? Students can see right through a phony teacher in a heartbeat.

That said, a few teachers in my life have had a tremendous impact on me in more ways than one. After a lot of thought, here are the teachers that have meant the most to me . . .

My MotherMom

My mom, Kathryn Shoemaker, was one of the best teachers I’ve ever known. There are many, many people who will tell you how she changed their lives. Mom was an old school disciplinarian who was the epitome of “tough love.” I remember the summer before my 5th grade year when mom took me aside to tell me she was going to be my teacher. I was thrilled! Mom was going to be my teacher! I’d have it made! She paddled me the third week of school. In retrospect, I now know why she did it. She wanted to show the rest of the class that there would be no favorites. And oh, by the way? I deserved it. From my mother I learned to treat every kid in my class equally. Family background, previous history, none of that mattered. Because of Mom I always judged kids from the moment they set foot in my class. Everything that had happened before was erased and everyone got a fresh start. If my mother hadn’t been a teacher there’s slim chance I would have ever had the desire to teach, simple as that. I’ve written a lot about Mom on this site, but only because she deserves it. She was an incredible teacher.

My Sister Karen

My sister Karen was an amazing teacher as well. I don’t think I’ve ever told her this, but I learned a very important lesson from her. That lesson was this – my sister never talked down to her students. Ever. She could be teaching a group of 3rd graders and it was as if she was talking to a group of her peers. And you know what? Students respond to that, especially hers. Nothing makes a kid shut down quicker than an adult treating them like they’re a kid. Sounds funny but it’s true. Every good teacher I’ve ever known has that same quality. And my sister truly cared about her students and was genuine with them as well. Kids can see right through a phony, and Sis was never, ever that, believe me. Oh, and by the way, students always loved my sister and her class.

Mrs. Arrington

I had Mrs. A as a 1st grade teacher and again as a high school English teacher, which I would guess is pretty rare. Mrs. A always and unequivocally believed in me. When I was being an idiot in high school (which was often) it was always she who took me aside and told me I was better than I was acting. She always saw something that a lot of others didn’t seem to see. Somehow, she saw the potential in me and pointed it out to me many, many times. She had every right to give up on me but she refused to do so. In turn, as a teacher I’ve tried to carry on that philosophy – stick with every kid no matter how badly they’re behaving or how poorly they’re doing in the classroom. Mrs. A also pretty much helped me graduate, which I chronicled here. Mrs. A passed away a couple years ago, but her influence lives on.

Mrs. Ritchie

Mrs. Ritchie taught me, among other things, to look at life’s Big Picture. She always spoke of living in the moment, to not let life pass you by. Sort of a precursor to Lennon’s “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” quote. And her classes were fun. Hey, you can learn and have fun at the same time! It was something I never forgot and did my best to emulate throughout my career. I already told you the story of “A Clap in the Face” and that illustrates Mrs. Ritchie perfectly. I was asked to read that story at her funeral, and I was very touched and honored to be asked to do it. Mrs. Ritchie’s class was one of the highlights of my school experience, and it was because she taught me things way beyond the course of study.

Mrs. Rannells

Mrs. Rannells was my mentor during my first year of teaching. As you might expect I was nervous, anxious, and had a lot of questions. Mrs. Rannells was always there for me with patience, advice and a kind word of encouragement. I think she was a little bemused at my teaching style, but she was always there with a positive word. She probably doesn’t even remember this, but she once told me this: “The kids like you. You’ve already won half the battle.” That gave me confidence to be myself in my classroom. I also watched as she calmly dealt with problems and never got too excited or upset with her students. I don’t know if a kid ever got to her or under her skin, but if they did she sure didn’t show it. Mrs. Rannells had a similar demeanor and style to to mom, and she was the perfect mentor for me that first year. She set a tone for the rest of my teaching career, and I’ve never forgotten that.

There’s another common denominator among the five teachers I just wrote about, and that is that every one of them had complete control of their classrooms. They rarely, if ever, sent a kid to the office. They handled their own problems without giving up and sending a kid to the principal. That’s classroom management folks, and believe me when I say it’s the mark of a great teacher. Because of these teachers you could count the number of students I sent to the office on one hand over a 30-year period.

Oh, there were other educators who had a great impact on me, teachers like Beverly Gray and principals like John Miller, Bob Sigler, and of course the greatest of all, Jigger. But as far as classroom teachers go, those five meant the most to me.

I’m not sure a lot of young teachers understand how powerful an impact they’re having on their students. A simple statement that might be inconsequential to you might become imbedded in a kid’s head forever. Trust me, I’ve had former students repeat something I said 20-years ago that I’d long forgotten about. It’s amazing really.

Historian Henry Adams may have said it best:

“A teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.”

And that, my friends, is a fact.

Gimme a holler.

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