Daily Prompt: Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?
I am a teacher. The profession demands and deserves a commitment to raising up young people to be the leaders and shapers of culture. Teaching them how to think and solve problems. Inspiring their creativity. Spurring them on to good deeds.
I remember teachers who met the demands of the profession because they believed their students deserved their commitment. I remember their love, investment and enthusiasm. To them my schoolmates and I owe a debt of gratitude that is hard to repay on this side of the schoolhouse classrooms.
I owe an even greater debt to another teacher. I remember him clearly. Like me, he was an English teacher. I consistently viewed him from my own lofty perch of assumed superiority, of course. I was a senior. I had ‘arrived.’ In my view, this guy not only failed to meet the demands of the profession but also failed to pass the test of basic human decency. I remember his condescension. A recurring tone of incredulity at our collective idiocy permeated the classroom. I remember his affected long-suffering. I remember that he had trouble asking questions that would spark conversation. I remember that he struggled, just as we did, to diagram sentences. I remember that his standard uniform was a long-sleeved white dress shirt and tan corduroys, and he always wore a tie. And I remember this: he didn’t grade our written work. He assigned essays and research writing. But he didn’t read them. He couldn’t have. Because I plagiarized. And I got an A. I’m still not over it.
Mr Elness didn’t deserve my condescension any more than we deserved his. No doubt what I claim to remember has suffered from teen-aged self-righteousness and current authorial license. I know this. I didn’t like him. At the time, I didn’t think I learned a bit of anything useful about the random pieces of literature that we read or the thoughts that at least one of us in that old classroom pretended to write. But he taught me about being an English teacher.
For seventeen and a half years, I have battled my own sarcastic and sometimes even caustic tongue. I’ve learned that asking good questions takes effort! Not only must I possess awareness of text, but make connection with young thinkers who haven’t even lived what I’ve lived, never mind what the Anglo-Saxons experienced. I’ve learned that teachers are learners too, and admitting a struggle or an outright error helps students realize our decency, our humanity. I’ve learned that feedback and engagement with a student’s efforts on paper help him to be a better thinker/writer.
My profession demands that I do these things. My students deserve them.
I am a teacher. A leader. A shaper of culture.
I have Mr. Elness to thank for that.