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“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.”

-Nikos Kazantzakis

If I've learned anything in the last 22 years, it's how to embrace the sometimes terrifying notion of being myself. The next few weeks wrap my up time as a professional student, and barring some misguided jaunt into the world of further education, the first of May will bring the last of textbooks, notes, and tests.

That makes this the perfect time to reflect upon those years served under good teachers and bad. My education's not been one collective experience, but rather, a collection of small encounters with teachers and administrators who cared enough to do their part.

The life of a teacher must be frustrating. Theirs is a labor of love, and labor is the right word. They work tirelessly, forsaking the sleep and sanity that might come with another profession. More than that, they're in many ways investors, unable to see the fruits of their labors until many years have passed. Teachers polish diamonds for years on end, holding to the vision of potential within students that probably haven't earned that level of dedication. But the good teachers create classrooms that leave a permanent stamp. My experiences led me to appreciate teachers not for what they taught, but for what they were.

My first tangible memory of school takes me back to kindergarten and Mrs. Roop, a sterling woman whose classroom took young students deep into the jungle. She was a teacher who exhibited basket loads of what might be the most important quality for a teacher - patience. I had trouble tying my shoes as a young person, and I battled the demon of scowling perfectionism. I'd cry as a kid, and more than once I dedicated myself to the idea of a life spent wearing only Velcro shoes. But her patience set the course, and her gentle demeanor made the introduction to school significantly less scary for those is getting our feet wet.

I owe to Monica Milling some of my literary talent. She used well-placed threats - those involving hangings, toes, and the top of the ceiling - to dissuade her sixth grade students against combining the words "a" and "lot" into one word. It seems to me somewhat rare to remember a distinct detail of instruction from a class 15 years ago, but that must be the case for most of us who had Mrs. Milling.

Two teachers and one administrator stand out from the educational abyss that tends to be high school. I took years of Spanish under the direction of Linda Lockyer, whose passion for the profession made her unique among her peers. Mrs. Lockyer was subjected to the worst sort of high school torment, as we often made a mockery of the proceedings. I'd routinely answer her entirely legitimate questions with nonsensical retorts like "muy tengo" and "yo tengo zapatos azules." She made learning fun, filling her classroom with music. On a recent trip to Wisconsin, a high school friend recalled the lyrics of Te Recuerdo Amanda, a song often played on an almost-daily basis in her classroom. We read 100 Days of Solitude, and we cooked foodstuffs of Spanish and Hispanic origin. Her classroom was really a temple of learning, even if we were prone to desecration. But her efforts taught us more than just a language. For most of us, it was the first picture of another culture, and her class emphasized a certain appreciation and respect for that culture.

Any of my classmates that happen upon this article will know Kris Sinclair, the high-achieving physics and science professor who asked more of us than most of us were willing to give. He was and remains a teacher who inspired not through his words, but through his being. He'd bike to school each day, but only after completing a morning workout. He was the sort of person who would eat a dozen donuts every day because his body needed them for fuel. An Ironman competitor, he demanded much from himself. His demands extended onto his students. I was unprepared for a brand of instruction that demanded both hard work and critical thought, and Mr. Sinclair was unashamed of his unwillingness to compromise those requirements.

He's since moved on from high school teaching, a career move that's predictability was only matched by Willie Mays's move from AAA Minneapolis to the New York Giants. We knew at the time that he was bound for some level of greatness, and as it turned out, he's chased it with the sort of dedication that was foreseeable by those who attempted one of his homework assignments.

Mr. Sinclair forced us to dive deep into abilities that we did not know we had, and he impressed upon us the important truth that we could do much more than our self-imposed limits suggested.

Chris Carter served as the dean of students at my high school, and he was able to communicate the importance of education without saying a word. His presence alone put students on notice that something important was happening, and his professionalism served as an example for all to follow. He was tough, as deans can often be, but he had the sort of purpose that made learning seem like something that must be done.

For people like me, high school instruction stretches well beyond the classroom. It makes its way on the fields of clay and grass that we call home in the afternoon hours. One coach was more than a strategist; he was an educator and a motivator. His name is Casey Thiele, and he, too, has moved on. We won a football state championship under his direction when I was a freshman, and during that year, I took my share of abuse. I was less than five and a half feet, and I weighed around 150 pounds. My cache of toughness developed only with hits applied by ruthless running backs. That year was characterized by many tears, and at the end, it culminated in a large ring that signified to me the growth gained through struggle.

After playing my next season at a different school, I returned to Coach Thiele as a six-foot-one, 225 pound junior ready to combine my new size with the determination learned as a little guy. It was Coach Thiele who recognized my potential, and it was him who, before leaving that year, suggested that I wear number one. Like Mr. Sinclair, he was a teacher who was willing to nurture ability even when it hadn't appeared to others.

The contributions of these people have led me to where I am today - a month short of law school graduation, but still with so much more to learn. They prepared me to learn under such dedicated teachers as Craig Joyce and Seth Chandler, both experts in their respective fields of law. They engaged in me the ability to think for myself, which has come in handy in my dealings with professor David Dow, who I have written about at length on this site.

Because, really, it's not what you learn in those early years that matters. I could have learned Spanish through Rosetta Stone and I might have learned history from Wikipedia. More, it's the ways in which those dedicated teachers get their students to learn that they can learn. They unlocked in me an inquisitiveness that's led to a furthering of my own education that I'm sure will continue until I can no longer use a computer or pick up a book.

They are people who made sacrifices. Long nights and trying days mark the life of a teacher, and I can only think that they choose to go on with it because of the possibility, however minute, that they might make a difference. For those who I've been blessed to learn under, I'll say, "Job well done." Your contributions have been invaluable to me and many others, and your determined dedication has not gone unnoticed.

Originally posted to Coby DuBose on Criminal Injustice, Race, and Poverty on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 08:23 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Unfortunately... (4+ / 0-)

    ...the current educational system is designed to crush new teachers. It's a thankless job. Far too much emphasis is placed on legalities-fear of getting sued-than teaching to the point that teaching is only 1% of the job. During my internship one of the teachers who was mentoring me got sacked simply because one of the students who didn't like him happened to make a (highly unlikely) claim that he touched her inappropriately. Like that-gone.

    It's no surprise at all that ONE HALF of all new teachers are in another profession after only three years. My own teaching experience was horrific enough that it took just seven weeks to crush my dedication to the profession so thoroughly that I never want to walk in a classroom again. Teachers are blessed because they are cursed by a profession out to destroy them. They have my utmost admiration for the sacrifices they make every day.

    "Know that it is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it." - Donald Rumsfeld

    by teej on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 11:03:00 AM PDT

    •  I've seen two teachers lost that same way (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One was a high school band teacher.  A student placed a picture of himself in his underwear in the teacher's desk.  As a prank of sorts.  A year after he graduated, the student admitted he'd framed the teacher.  Ironically, the framed teacher was replaced a year later by another band teacher, who molested a freshman the year after I graduated.

      The second teacher lost to false accusations was a colleague, and a highly talented language arts teacher.  Two girls accused him of trying to touch them after school.  They admitted a few months later that they were angry he wouldn't change a failing grade on one of the girl's papers.  He was offered his position back with no loss of pay but he declined the offer and retired early.

      We also had a young PE teacher who was accused of offering to trade passing grades for favors, but fortunately he had proof that the student had threatened to accuse him falsely if he didn't give her back the cellphone he'd confiscated.  I should point out, however, that the student was suspended for 5 days then returned to his class for the false accusation.

  •  Murica... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, ladybug53

    ...hates teachers.

  •  Enjoy the praise of your teachers (6+ / 0-)

    and you call them by name. Decades later, I still remember the best of them by name, too. Good teaching, like good parenting, rarely gets the accolades, whereas the results of less than stellar performance in either gets endless mainstream press coverage. Just one little thing, it's Cien anos de soledad. No dias, mi hermano. Thanks.

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 11:22:25 AM PDT

  •  Lovely tribute, Grizzard, and congratulations on (7+ / 0-)

    your imminent graduation. Republishing to Teachers Lounge.

  •  Wonderful (6+ / 0-)

    I dream that sometime one of my students will write such wonderful things about me.  

    I hear goodthings from them thirdhand occasionally.  Someone I met at a conference tolme about sitting next to a former student on a plane flight, and she had talked about my colleague and I had been so wonderful, etc.  The student graduated about ten years before that date, and we had heard absolutely nothing from her in the intervening years.  But apparently she liked the experience in the major.

  •  My most fondly-remembered teachers... (5+ / 0-)

    ... include my parents: my mother in first grade and my father in second, both for Judaic studies.


    Mrs. Bridge, 1st grade secular studies, who put me on the advanced reading track
    Mrs. Peterson, 6th grade English, who directed the annual school play and gave us A Midsummer Night's Dream one year
    Mrs. Beuthel, 6th grade math and science, who refused to let me slack off in the math portion of her class and showed me I could actually be good at it
    Mr. Levy, 10th grade biology, who taught us an enormous amount through memorable clowning
    Mr. Lasky, 10th grade world history, who illustrated the abuse of power through the ages by casting himself as the feudal lord, the king, and the factory boss
    Mr. Mayer, 10th grade math, whose favorite word was "defenestrate" and who would describe bad handwriting as "wholly illegible, Batman"
    Mrs. Brandwein, 12th grade English, who encouraged me not to give up on becoming an English major

    The memorable teachers I had in college would take another several pages.  I'm tempted to do it anyway.

  •  sorry dude (0+ / 0-)

    i start off from a position of respect for teachers, which wanes as i am exposed to them. many still have my respect when the ordeal is over, a few even impress me. but i have had literally zero that inspired me. your overly-dramatic ode strikes me as disingenuous. this load of crap makes me want to vomit. i even doubt its authenticity. overly emotional language is how you spot BS.

    i'm reading this comment above me along with the diary, talking about teachers in costume, judaic studies being offered at an elementary school, foreign language teachers with oodles of spanish novels, physics professors bringing donuts to a lab and reavealing their personal life, and teachers personally advising students on their college major, which the commenter apparently knew before going, which should never be expected.

    what kind of utopia were you raised in? what school offers judaic studies and secular studies for primary school kids? not a public one. high schools don't offer that. secondary school teachers don't have an office and never consult you about anything, and neither do elementary teachers. college professors never meet with you about anything, and they do everything possible to make you never want to talk to them. you do not have emotional frigging connections to a damn teacher. teachers are not supposed to be a part of their students' social lives. let's be real, people. if true, i'm glad you had such an unbelievably good educational experience. but you are not the norm, and your testimony does not serve any larger debate on education, because it is highly misleading.

    also, these teachers don't seem that great to me, and seem to underestimate their kids greatly. you make any effort at helping the student seem an exception when it should be an expectation, and you champion rigid discipline. if i were a teacher, i would try to be better than these teachers, who i find gimmicky. good teachers should not tirelessly try to reform their students. they should adjust to their students. i want to learn more than my teachers ever do! they're freaking specialists! i'm the holistic one!

  •  What a great diary, Grizzard! (4+ / 0-)

    I had so much fun teaching. The kids are the best part. I still live in the neighborhood I taught in so I get to see lots of my students all grown up. Many are working in amazing careers and that make's me feel really good. Some have passed away and some have gone to jail. Teaching can be an awesome job.

  •  Hear! Hear! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annetteboardman, Matt Z

    I had some of the best teachers in my time in the public schools (and a private college). But I especially want to thank my third grade teacher, Mrs. Dehenden, for putting the fickle finger of fate on me.

    That was long ago and far away, but she pushed me in the right direction, and I can't thank her enough for that.

  •  Thanks Grizzard (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You remind me of all the wonderful kids that have walked through my door.

    Lena: brought me a little origami turtle or star every day.  I still tell my students about you when they ask about the mason jar of origami on my desk.

    Coleen: I never knew why you hated me, but I hope you found peace, wherever you are.

    Derek: I'll never figure out how you got the gummy bear on the roof without me seeing you, but I still laugh about it.

    Mary Jo: loved science more than I do, if that's even possible.  I regularly had to translate her explanations to the class.  And no, I still don't understand quantum physics, but I keep trying.

    Phoenix: smartest student I ever taught, I'm pretty sure he's smarter than I am.  Tell your boss he/she should be paying you more.

    Jesse and Taylor: I was proud to see you both get your black belt in TKD.  I hope you're still kicking butt.

    Lindsay: I still think Merida from Brave was modeled after you.  And I loved teaching your little sister too.

  •  Thank you for this tribute to your teachers. (0+ / 0-)

    I often remember so many of mine, from elementary through grad school, but not their names. There was, however, the unforgettable Gilbert Highet at Columbia who gave me this wise advice about teaching: Choose carefully where you want to be - don't get stuck in Mississippi if you don't want to be there; remember your first duty is to your students; and don't let the administration get you down. And with that last admonition he gave a hearty laugh. Highet's book The Art of Teaching is a classic and stresses the rigorous planning and work the job requires.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 10:22:53 PM PDT

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