Friday, May 04, 2007

Who Was Your Best Teacher?

I hope this is a tough question. I hope you have so many memories of terrific teachers that it's hard to choose. Public education seems to be in trouble these days. These days? I heard the same dire warning when I was in college way back when, but I took the courses I needed to get certified anyway. I was a cockeyed optimist even though one of the profs--a white guy visiting from South Africa--claimed that the very idea of universal education was absurd. Maybe it is, but without it, there's no no hope for the American dream.

I watched "Freedom Writers" on DVD this week, and I'm flashing both thumbs up. It's based on a true story. I love true stories about great teachers. I've known many, and I'll mention some in a minute. But first my plug for this movie. It took me a while to get arounf to it because reviewers said it was cliche. Novice teacher gets thrown to the sharks and turns them into goldfish. Same old story. Yeah, right, reviewers, tell me about another remake or part III sequel. Yes, this is the story of a young teacher who makes a difference in a tough neighborhood. It happens, and it makes a hell of a good story. It's based on Erin Gruwell's book Freedom Writers Diary, and she and her students have put their lives where their mouth is by founding the
Freedom Writers Foundation to encourage promising teachers.

As I've probably mention here a time or ten, I taught for 17 years on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, where my husaband and our children are enrolled members. I started in 1970. Erin Gruwell started teaching in Long Beach CA in 1994. We both taught English, and we faced the same problems. Like Erin, I ended up buying books to use in class because all I had were outdated text books. I bought paperbacks, just as she did. There were so many scenes, so many attitudes, so many kids in the movie that echoed my experience. Sadly, so little had changed in 24 years. Oh, the stories. Oh, the memories. I tell you, friends, nothing pleases me more than running into my kids or hearing from them, reminiscing. Teaching is a hard job, but it's the most important job and the most rewarding and the most, the most...okay, I'm biased. But we've got to stop bemoaning the "failure" of our public schools and get serious about improving them. People like Erin Gruwell are out there. Let's get behind them!

My best teachers? Mrs. Wrist, first grade. Who doesn't remember the teacher who taught her to read? Mr. Pierce and Mr. Colyer, among other wonderful high school English teachers who taught me to write well and read great literature. Scary ol' Mr. Foley, probably the best teacher I had--U.S.History--taught me to think, discuss, debate, question. Do you remember a teacher or two who made a difference in your life?

Okay, here's a silly little treat. First year teacher Mrs. Eagle (left), as shown in the Fort Yates High School '70-'71 yearbook. (I was Miss Pierson for the first month of school.) And that's Hillary Swank on the right, and below, with her class.

Has anyone else seen the movie? What did you think? Do you have any great anecdotes about your favorite teachers? Any teachers have any great anecdotes? I have a bunch. Let's remember.


Christie Ridgway said...

Oh, I still have great faith in public education, maybe because my husband is a high school teacher! But there also is a first-year teacher who is coaching my boys' volleyball teams and she is so wonderful and caring and has involved her remedial kids in the team and now they have something more to come to school for.

My fave teachers: Mr. Guinn, Mrs. Shore, Miss O'Hara (high school English, I had Mrs. Shore twice). Mrs. Robertson in 2nd grade because she was so pretty.

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy, what an adorable photo! And Christie-- I bet your hubby is adorable and a much loved teacher.

I have GREAT faith in the public schools and believe that America wouldn't exist without them. (At one point there were 19 teachers in my family-- me included!)

Public education is both "the great leveler" and "the big bootstrap." Yes there are inequities and there's a lot of work to be done, but I do believe we're the only country that does such a job of educating EVERYONE and not just the upper classes or certain ethnic groups.

I had some teachers who were special and inspiring. Mrs. Bullington--9th grade English. Miss Leurant (who by rights should have been called Dr. Leurant, because she had a medical degree) who taught me biology and oversaw my regional and state Science Fair wins. And Myron Pierce, my band director for the last two years.

It was hard becoming Mrs. Krahn-- I had been Miss Maynard to two years of science students and was used to hearing that name.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Oh, Betina, I had a terrific biology teacher in high school. Mr. Lewis. I won 2nd place in the school science fair in biology for my project on evolution. It was my clay busts. (I was pretty good in art.) The guy who won first place--William Weasel--did the simplest looking thing. He used puffs of air and something called a binary code to get this silly looking cardboard box to answer some little question. He claimed that it was a rudimentary computer. That little thing? He said that computers were going to change everything. Said it wouldn't matter that I couldn't get the hang of using a slide rule. Yup, William was a nerd. You could tell by the pocket protector and the briefcase. He could have been Bill Gates, but he became an astronomer instead.

Michele Hauf said...

Mr. Leverington and Mr. Krystowsic.

Leverington was my fourth grade teacher, and first male teacher. I had a crush on him because he had Tom Selleck good looks. But he would read aloud to us and challenge us to be creative. Everything he taught seemed immensely interesting because of the way it was presented.

And then there was my 11-12th grade social studies teacher, Mr. Krystowsic. No one liked him. Even I grumbled about him. I got a C in Crime and Punishment that he taught, but an A in Modern History. (Can you imagine getting a C? I was always an A/B student. That grade crushed me.) He was very abrupt, and always had this grin like he knew something important, and he wasn't going to tell us. He wore a bow tie every day, and cowboy boots and like to stalk about the room, hands behind his back, giving us that eerie grin. "Did you get the gist of that?" was his favorite saying. And sometimes I did get the gist, sometimes not. He was a character. But if you could look beyond the frequent arguements with the 'bad boys' who were always trying to rattle him, and listened to his speaches, you learned something. I didn't realize until after I had graduated how much I appreciated Mr. Krystowsic. I wonder if he's still teaching...


Candace said...

Mr. Jones. Sixth grade. He was the first teacher to praise my writing. He encouraged me to read installments of my "serial story" outloud to the class every Friday afternoon.

I sent a copy of my first book to him in care of my elementary school with a thank you for his encouragement all those years ago, and got a lovely note back that read as if he actually remembered who I was.

Kaitlin said...

Let me say right off that school from kindergarten until the day I dropped out was hell on earth for me. That said, I was blessed with three of the best teachers a student can ask for.

In elementary school it was Mrs. Keeling who understood that reading was almost as important than breathing to me & would let me read instead of doing other things (like music appreciation YUCK).

In middle school, it was Mr. van Rooyen, whose European flare & gift for storytelling made my life wonderful. One of the greatest treats of my life was being able, as an adult, to tell him thank you for being such an awesome teacher.

And in high school, Mr. Guidry, a big, black, very intimidating looking gentleman who had the heart of a fuzzy teddy bear. He took me under his wing & made high school bearable for me.

I think without these three individuals...well, it frightens me to think of where I might be without them.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Kaitlin, you sound like my own 3 children. None of them loved school the way I did, and they're all very very smart. One of the themes of "Freedom Riders" is that the really great teacher understands that traditional methods don't work for everybody. Too often teachers end up struggling with the constraints of "the system" and the notion that "this kid can't/won't/doesn't want to learn." I read somewhere that English is most often named the least favorite subject and English teachers are most often named favorite teachers. I think it has to do with reading and writing.

I suffered through music appreciation in jr. high, along with the rest of the kids who couldn't sing and didn't play an instrument. Actually, I think we all had to try to sing. But if you made chorus or band, you didn't have to take music appreciation. And I love all kinds of music--could have been a great class. Bor-ring.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Oops. Freedom WRITERS. I knew I'd do it sooner or later.

Candace, first teacher to let me read my stories aloud to the class was 4th grade, and I don't remember her name (!) But she was pretty. My 7th grade English teacher--Miss Wersetski--was the first one to assign lots of writing and regularly chose my stuff to read aloud. Made a believer of me. She had problems with her glasses all year. One bow was always taped or missing. Kids notice stuff like that.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't get past the violent beginning of Freedom Writers. It was playing on the plane, coming back from a family spring break trip, and I was furious that my small children were subjected to those opening minutes.

No, they didn't have headphones, but there was no way to block the very violent scenes in fronst of their faces! I tried to distract them with games/treats/ the portable DVD player we had, but short of putting my hands over their eyes, I couldn't stop them from seeing some disturbing images.

I'm glad that the movie had a good message buried in there, but I wish Hollywood didn't think that they have to splash blood all over every movie.

flip said...

My most influential teacher was Mrs. Mahys, my fifth grade teacher. She taught at Nell Holcomb School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Mrs.Mahy introduced me to the great modern artists of the 20th century. She encourage my love of reading and writing.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Anon, I had to check for the rating--PG13. I thought they stuck to G in-flight or used an edited version. There was a shooting scene early in the movie that figures into the throughline for one of the main characters. No violence after that, and I thought it was a pretty short scene. But then I wasn't sitting beside my little ones on a plane. It really is an uplifting story.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but there was nothing G about the shootings and beatings in the movie. I believe there were at least 3 fight scenes-- two before the shooting and one after.

I didn't listen to the movie, and so they may have cut language, but the images flashing up there were quite violent.

Like I said, I;m glad that there was a good message in the moveie. but I can't imagine how the airline thought this was O.K. for general consumption.