It’s teacher appreciation week and I feel compelled to write something about it. Perhaps I’m biased because I am teacher – both at the middle school and college levels – but teachers play a huge role in positively influencing young people of all ages.
A TRIBUTE TO MY OWN OUTSTANDING TEACHERS
The teacher who has had the greatest influence on my life is hands down my own father. As awkward as it sounds, he was my 7th grade science teacher. In reality, it wasn’t awkward. He treated me the same as any other student and I received my share of disciplinary action in his class – name on the board with checks and all. He must have been a good teacher because the only test I ever aced in my whole junior high and high school career was in his class. The topic? Fungi!
The teaching from him that has stuck the most, however, was the teaching that happened outside the classroom. He’s taught me some interesting facts along the way. I’ll never forget that Mephitis mephitis is the scientific name of a skunk and that Turdus migratorius is the scientific name of the American Robin. But more importantly, he’s taught me many life lessons. One of which I always come back to. One time when I was particularly stressed about all of the commitments in my life and telling him all that I had to get done, he simply replied, “Reuben, you can’t do it all.” I’ve reflected on that advice many, many times throughout my life and it’s always helped me to not worry quite as much as I might.
There are a few other teachers who have made a huge impression on me. My high school choir teacher, Merrilee Webb, for instance. Her enthusiasm was infectious. She made choir something that I always looked forward to. I feel I’ll never live up to the passion she showed and passion was one of her mantras, which she made very clear to us students.
Clyde Milner and Mike Sweeney
Several college professors had a major influence on me. As an undergrad, they were Clyde Milner and Mike Sweeney. Milner, a respected Western historian, reignited my passion for history and was part of the inspiration to go to graduate school and was the reason I chose the school I did, UNLV. Sweeney didn’t even feel like a teacher – he was a mentor with whom I was on a first-name basis and under his tutelage I became a much better writer. “Show, don’t tell” was one of his mantras and I try to ingrain that same mantra into both my middle school and college students. While passing through our area a few years ago, he even took the time to stop at my house to say “hi,” which says a lot about him.
Hal Rothman, Eugene Moehring and Andy Kirk
As a graduate student, three professors’ influences will always stick with me – Hal Rothman, Eugene Moehring and Andy Kirk. Rothman, a renowned environmental historian, took up where Milner left off, igniting my passion for history. He took a chance on me and took the time to schedule one-on-one meetings with me to see how I was doing. Sadly, ALS took him too early.
Moehring introduced me to historiography, the study of the writing of history, which opened up a whole new world for me. Before him, history was mostly memorizing names, dates and facts, but he showed me the importance of realizing that it is reinterpreted over time, something that has become the cornerstone of my own college history class. I even use some of his typewriter-typed notes in my current class, which are historic relics in and of themselves!
Kirk, another outstanding environmental historian, took me and my classmates on an epic research trip to Yosemite, but more importantly, stuck with me and believed in me when I essentially flew the coop after completing my graduate coursework, helping me stay the course, complete my thesis and finish my Masters degree.
Teaching: A Sometimes Thankless Profession
All of these teachers have influenced me in becoming the teacher I am today. I will admit, some of the time, teaching is a thankless profession. For instance, one student my first year teaching middle school came into the room about every other class period and said, “Mr. Wadsworth, I hate you.” Regularly this year when I give students a challenging assignment, they remark, “Why do you hate us?” I always tell them, however, that they’re up to the challenge, but they don’t like hearing that, of course!
The Teacher Payoff
Just this week, I’ve received numerous reminders of one of the reasons I’m a teacher. For instance, a middle schooler just wrote me yesterday saying that before my class, English just wasn’t her subject and she wasn’t confident in it, but this year in my class, she’s been more confident and feels like I’ve helped her understand it better.
A few days ago, I ran into a student who was in the very first college history class, six years ago, and she told me to this day it has been her favorite history class and that she really enjoyed doing the oral history project I had them do. After she said that, I told her that my history class today is much different than it was back then, that her and her classmates were my guinea pigs. Even with my comments to kind of diffuse the praise, she stood by her assessment of my class.
Some of the best compliments I’ve received from college students over the years have been the ones who said they didn’t like history coming into my class, but by taking my class they’ve become interested in it. I’ll never forget one student, who quipped, “Your class is my favorite class and I don’t even like history!”
In a recent student survey I just got back from my current history class to help me decide what direction to take my class in the future (and not to stroke my own ego), I was overwhelmed with the unsolicited positive praise found in the survey. So many of them said that it was the best history class they’d ever taken and one even went as far to say that the way I taught and the concepts I highlighted blew his mind.
One student just wrote at the end of her final short answer exam, “It was super refreshing to have a professor that cares so much about his material/profession. Never change!! Your class reminded me why I love school.”
That is the payoff of teaching. Comments like that are what keep teachers going.
I would be remiss if I did not also credit the team of teachers with whom I work. They are a group of supportive ladies that have helped make my first years of teaching middle schoolers easier and smoother. They are extremely encouraging, always have my back and have also made me a better teacher by their influence (and we even support each other by dressing up on dress-up days!)
Thank a teacher today!
If you’ve read this post this far, my challenge to you today is to thank a teacher this week. Please tell him or her what they’ve meant to you and how they’ve helped you. And don’t just do it during Teacher Appreciation Week. Do it because they work their butts off to help students “get it” or to believe in themselves. I can guarantee that giving a teacher a positive compliment will make their day! Those sincere comments have made my day over and over again.