It’s National Teacher Appreciation Day. I would like to show appreciation to teachers who have influenced my life.
My first and second grade years were tramatic. I had teachers who yelled at little six-year-olds and called us stupid. That was first grade, second was the teacher who punished with the public spankings. By third grade, I knew that to keep quiet, silent, and obedient would ensure safe passage. But something was different about my teacher, Mrs. Schmidt. Mrs. Linda Schmidt smiled and it wasn’t fake. She didn’t want us to be quiet, and she did things differently, like tell me what I was good at – that I was a good reader, that my laugh made her day, and that my imagination was strong. I was confused at first, but her belief was stronger – that each of her students was unique and important. We became better and happier students; the best of us came out.
And then, in my junior year of high school, Mr. Tuitipou became the new band teacher. My former band teacher had retired, and if you can imagine this rag-tag band of Navajo kids unified only by class title and hour, who did not have discipline to work and play together, then that was us. We had awful habits that the former teacher allowed and we fought to keep our habits, but he always came back to this – “You guys are great, but you’re not great now. We don’t have time to waste. This is what I expect if you want to be the best. There’s the door if not.”
We stayed. The concerts were packed events; even my parents, who were country music listeners sat through, with tapping feet, to not only classical music, but heavy metal (Metallica) pieces! Mr. Tuitipou didn’t cater only to the nerds, but to those heavy metal guys who held up the walls and scared mostly the teachers. I am nostaglic now, but Mr. Tuitipou saw something in all of us that we did not see, and he showed us it was possible. He brought out the best in us and showed what character was to him – practice and self-discipline.
I do not have enough room to recognize the many teachers who have motivated me, and in doing so, influenced my teaching practice. I have noticed that my former teachers have some common traits: they cared deeply for learning and shared it; they recognized the strengths and best qualities in their students; and they were clear in their expectations. They were not vague in their actions and speech.
And when I remember the teachers who showed the terror of learning, I think of this quote by the poet, Richard Hugo: “A strange attitude for a teacher – not wanting to give and share. They’re not as good at this as business executives are. Maybe that’s why they must limit their victims to the young.”
So, today, on Teacher Appreciation Day, remember those teachers who inspired (yes, inspired) us to become a teacher (even with the war on education). I have been fortunate to have more than two, and grateful for the many colleagues I still learn from today.
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