Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teachers who inspire us!



In Australia last weekend was a long weekend. I spent the Saturday at my daughter's school (she's a student teacher) helping her clean her classroom/office. She is a specialist music teacher so she gets a little office to teach her students in. It's a lovely room, in that it has air conditioning and a new view of the oval. But it is boring with standard carpet, standard desk, standard windows and standard pale green painted walls.

So, once we'd cleaned it, we went to Spotlight (material and craft store) to do up the room. We bought pale blue chiffon for the windows. Rainbow chiffon to make a fabric rainbow, sparkly butterflies to put on the walls and curtains, stickers of birds and flowers for the walls and stick-on little green frogs to hide in corners and give the boy students a thrill. She rang me this evening to say that the kids loved the class room!

All this is leading up to how important teachers are. They can turn a fascinating subject into a chore or they can inspire us. When I was in school, every Friday afternoon we had to write a composition (essay). The teacher would give us a topic and we would write a story. I LOVED this and looked forward to Friday afternoons. No matter how staid and boring the topic, I always found a way to turn it into something interesting. Aliens taking over the world? Sure, why not? Kidnapped by a space ship? Sure, I can do that.

And every Monday I would get my marks back. Not one word about the story, just an irritated admonishment to spell the words correctly or I would never get anywhere in life, with a list of spelling words I had to write out ten times.

Contrary to my teachers' warning, I went on to write and be published!

So did you have any teachers who inspired you to be creative?

31 comments:

Brendan said...

One of my teachers was an inspiration mostly by how awful he was(if I want to write about someone cowering in fear or being ridiculed in front of class I just have to cast my mind back to Grade 4) and the main memory I have of another is that the comment he wrote on a story I handed in could most succinctly be phrased "WTF?"

But then there was the teacher who told us "A day hasn't been wasted if you have learned something new" and the one who encouraged me to play the class clown or listened when I tried to explain about what I had watched on Quantum the night before.

John Lambshead said...

It's odd but I was supposed to be a physicist or engineer but (i) we had an inspirational Zoology teacher with an Oxbridge degree (WJ Burley who wrote the Wycliffe detective stories and TV series) and a cruddy physics teacher out of the services met office.

I became a zoologist.

John

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Brendan, so you are saying that the terrible teachers are balanced out by the inspiring teachers?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

John,

You make a good point. If the teacher loves the subject, they can communicate that passion to their students.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, great post. My 7th grade English teacher happened to be one of the few who encouraged creativity in all her students. She wanted us to write, and write whatever the muse brought us, not according to some cookie-cutter pattern approved of by the administration. Of course, that was long enough ago -- yes, we were out of caves, but not by much -- when teachers had the freedom to adjust the curriculum to meet the needs of all her students, not have a single curriculum for all students, no matter what their needs. While she made sure we knew where we had misspelled words or messed up grammar and punctuation, she was more concerned with the craft of writing and with the story we told. It was great.

Then there was my senior year biology teacher. It was an honors class, the equivalent of what is now IBE 2nd years biology, and there were 8 of us in the class. Instead of a final exam, she assigned us projects to do, stressing that she didn't want the usual paper or science fair-type project. She wanted us to use our imaginations and do something completely outside the box. Four of us banded together and did a Monty Python inspired film (based on the Albatross sketch). Yes, we got very strange looks and more than one administrator or teacher stopping us and asking what we were doing as we went up and down the halls calling out "Albatross!" in bad cockney accents. But we got A's on the project and it was unique enough it was shown to the school and then to her classes the next few years to illustrate what she meant by "thinking outside the box".

On the opposite end of the spectrum, but just as inspirational in the cold sweat of fear sort of way, was my English professor my first semester of college. English had never been a difficult class for me. If I made less than an A in junior and senior high, something was wrong. But from that first day of class in college, I was scared stiff. The reason, the requirements. Our professor handed out a single sheet of typing paper, single spaced, with how to fail. Two comma faults and you flunk the paper. Two dangling modifiers -- flunk. Two split infinitives -- flunk. Three misspelled words -- flunk. Well, you get the ides. If we didn't have a C average on the last three papers of the term, flunk the course. That course made me learn the rules that had only been given lip service by most of my previous instructors. Hard as I worked to pass that class -- and I did, with a C+ and glad to have it -- it made me more aware of the rules and when to break them without killing the flow or voice of a story.

Brendan said...

Rowena, even the bad teachers can be good story fodder. The scary teacher was musical and could be a lot of fun, it was just he used the metre ruler on kids who couldn't spell and used ridicule as a way of putting kids in their place.

You probably only need one really inspiring teacher to make you forget the mediocratry of most of them, although I have to confess most of my teachers did their best(and a good best) to get me to learn anything.

C Kelsey said...

College is where all my inspirational teachers reside. While I respected some of the teachers I had in grade school, most of them were The Enemy. That is, my home town managed to routinely produce uneducated wretches for teachers.

I did have one Highschool English teacher. He was a rabid Irish Republican Army supporter (to the point that he would hang a large Irish flag in the back of the room and use IRA-punk rock lyrics as poetry). Decidedly weird. He had a degree in literature and was very proud of that fact. Oddly, he was not very well read for someone with a literature degree. Anyhow, we ended up talking about books at one point and got off track and into the topic of plays. Hamlet is one of my favorites of all time, and I said as much. He recommended reading Cerano deBergerac. Awesome play.

Really long story short -- the english teacher I disliked the most also taught me the most. Funny how that works.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Weirdly the teacher that inspired me most was my history teacher in nineth grade. She gave us an essay on mercantilism, as a final -- and I wrote a short story with Richelieu, the king and the three musketeers. Which, mind you, in the argument, covered all the points she wanted to know about. She gave me a perfect grade and raved about it. (My Portuguese/writing teachers just gave me the same treatment yours gave you.) If I remembered her name, I'd send her a copy of the musketeer mysteries. Unfortunately, I can remember her face clearly but not her name. (Possibly due to the Portuguese habit of calling all highschool teachers "doctor" while addressing them.)

Jonathan D. Beer said...

I've had a few teachers who were able to rise above the medicrity semi-imposed upon them by Britain teach-to-the-exam curriculum, and how I love them for it.

Two in particular stand out - they were both young women, both fresh out of student teaching, and were so filled with the talent for getting students to learn (somehow still intact after teacher training and the hazing regime of being a student teacher) that they were utter joys to be taught by.

One was my Spanish teacher, the other History, and together managed to get my lazy carcass through GCSEs and A-Levels and off to uni; a fact I will be forever grateful to them for. I've made a point of keeping track of them - one day when I have Made It, I really want to go and thank them for helping get me there.

Teachers are so formative, and so damn mistreated. Some, indeed, can be terrible. But those tend to be dismissed once you are free of the cloying, misery-inducing sight of them. The great ones stay with you.

warpcordova said...

Ms. Allison Sheedy, my freshman English teacher. She knew I was far behind everyone else in regards to English, and encouraged me to read something called "Starship Troopers", since she knew I liked the military.

Tragically, she was killed in a car crash a few years after I graduated high school. She got me into reading and, much later, accidentally turned me into a writer.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda,

Your first two teachers, inspiring!

LOL. C+ At least you know what a dangling modifier is!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

C Kelsey,

It's interesting that the English teacher you disliked most, taught you the most.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah,

Taking a topic like mercantilism and turning it into a story was what I did all the time at school and was constantly in trouble for it. Sigh.

I had an art teacher in years 11 and 12 who I admired. When my first trilogy came out I contacted the Education Department and got her address. I sent her a copy of my first book and she wrote back, saying she'd spent days by her mother's bedside in hospital, reading my book and it had swept her away from what was going on. So that was lovely.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Jonathan,

Do contact your teachers, it will mean so much to them.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Warpcordova,

What an inspired idea, giving you Starship Troopers! Sorry to hear her fate.

Chris McMahon said...

I had one teacher who inspired me - Reg Allen. He lectured us all once on the structure of one of the books we were studying in class and that hour was like a revelation to me.

As for the rest - well - its been a case of succeed despite them:)

cedunkley said...

Most of my teachers are a blur. And for the ones I do remember their names escape me.

I did have one English teacher who was encouraging when it came to writing. He read a few things and was quite supportive.

However, my most vivid memory goes back to junior high school English class. At the time I was reading, almost exclusively, British authors. As a result, in a paper for the class I spelled color as colour.

The teacher marked it as an incorrectly spelled word and took points off. I took exception to this as it wasn't misspelled and informed her of this, pointing out that this was the spelling in England and predated how we spell it here in the US.

Her reply was: "This is America and that's how we spell it in America so it's wrong."

Funny that I can't remember her name, but will never forget that. One would think that an English teacher, of all teachers, would think just the opposite. She could have simply pointed out the difference without taking points away with a note to concentrate on American spelling.

Dave Freer said...

:-)Now why did the picture immediately make me think of Snow White? I must have been most teacher's idea of the student from hell, so I can't really blame them too much for the way I loved (not) school (university on the other hand, I adored, and worked really hard). One teacher did, however, have a major effect on my life and career. In year 12 for approximately 2 minutes, I stopped bear-baiting my English teacher, and asked, seriously (or as seriously as I was capable of being) for help. "Sir, I want to be a writer."
Mr Morrell - "Freer, you can't spell, and no-one can make a living at it."

And therein lies the tremendous responsibility and danger of the teaching profession: He was a teacher so I believed him. With the wisdom of hindsight he was not a bad man, just not very bright, and not used to the idea that this particular student, might, for once, not be trying to give him a hard time. His comment was unthought-through, and offhand. Forgotten in seconds. It had a major impact on my life and I remember it 33 years later - down to his facial expression. I suppose he was half right. I can't spell.

Kate said...

I've had the good, the bad, and the utterly horrific (the latter being represented by the science/math teacher who was so bad one of his science classes had to have their grades adjusted because he hadn't taught them the required material. I was "lucky" - I managed to figure out enough of the math on my own to get a half-decent grade).

The ones I remember... The English teacher with Parkinsons and a deft turn of phrase who had enough quiet confidence that a class of 35 highly intelligent teenage girls actually shut up and listened to him. The physics lecture with the Russian accent in my first year physics class, who finally explained relative motion in a way I understood. "This one is stupid. He doesn't know the other one is there."

Most of them I was either the quiet one hiding in the horde who always got good grades - but occasionally scared crap out of them with a question or comment that left them wondering what the hell was going. A lot were scared of me - scared I'd correct them in front of the rest of the class.

Of course, I'm a text-book example of why you shouldn't put an average teacher in front of a highly intelligent, creative child. The results are... not good. For the teacher or the child.

Kate said...

Oh, yeah, I should add... One English teacher I loathed for good and sufficient reason proved a rather perverse inspiration. I can credit her with my little habit of writing people who irritate me into my stories and then indulging in character assassination followed by vicious redshirting.

Any time a supercilious skinny blond with a false smile and too much lipstick dies in something I wrote, thank that teacher.

Stephen Simmons said...

Dr. J. B. Colton.

I was a problem for the educational system. My mother finally found a solution, by jumping me forward a grade and scraping up the money (with the help of all the money from my summer jobs, plus a hefty scholarship from the alumni association, PLUS working for the school an hour a day) to get me into a quasi-military college-prep school in Albany for the last two years.

Dr. Colton was head of the Humanities Department. Except that he described himself as a student who had agreedto share his scholarship with fellow travelers. Meaning us. He was seventy-plus, and had never stopped studying. He held at least four disparate doctoral degrees - I came to his room after school one day and found him talking to my Calculus II teacher, his chalkboard COVERED in hieroglyphics I barely recognized as mathematics beyond my ken. The calculus teacher, head of his own department, had come to the one person available who knew more math than he did to ask a question.

J. B. callenged our minds, and challenged us. He didn't want answers from books, he wanted thoughts, reasoned out, explained, defended. His comparative religion class was an adventure. It's small wonder the first story I sold mixed Greek and Norse mythology ...

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Oh Chris, isn't it lucky you had one teacher who loved the craft of writing!

matapam said...

Mr. Corbin.

He was this great huge hulking bald guy who was given all the bad kids and behavior problems. I think I cried when I found out I was assigned to his class.

For the top group (three of us)the English, reading and writing curriculum for the entire year consisted of "Keep a list of everything you read. Turn in one book report a week." It was heaven. We three had a contest. I came in second with three hundred something books read for the year.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

cedunkly,

Isn't it interesting that, as children, we always remember the injustices?

Being Australian I am always coming across the difference in spelling between the US and English, then if you have to throw in idiosyncratic Australian words, things get really confusing.

I think we've done a couple of posts over the last year or two about this. It's an interesting topic.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dave, I still can't spell either! LOL!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Oh Kate, I do know how you felt.

Only I didn't have the sense to keep my mouth shut. When ever I saw something that didn't make sense to me I chased it down, and that included things the teachers said. So I really had a bad time in school. Not that I did it out of spite. I just wanted to know. Sigh.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Stephen, Dr JB Colton sounds like the ideal teacher!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Ah, Rowena AND Dave -- I top you both. My inability to spell extends to SEVEN languages.

Frogdancer said...

Now I'm getting paranoid....

...I wonder what my students say about ME!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Frogdancer,

Let's hope they appreciate you!

I teach at Qantm College, so I share your paranoia!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah,

I admire anyone who can speak more than one language. And to be able to write (tell a story in a book) in more than one language is amazing!