Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Best Teacher

Being the best is subject and depends largely on what the student needs at that time. Being the best isn't always about being the most knowledgeable, nor is it always about being the nicest teacher to ever spend time with a student. There's a happy balance between knowing what a child needs to learn academically and knowing what a child needs to grow and mature into a successful adult.

One of the best teachers I ever had was an English teacher. He was my teacher for both my junior and senior years at my private, Catholic high school. I'll refer to him simply as Mr. J since his last name is incredibly recognizable. He said that if you didn't get his last name, you could always call him by his first name, Good Ole Dave, or simply abbreviated, GOD. He was funny. Really, really funny.

Mr. J had masking tape on his floor. When I went back to visit my high school at my five year reunion, it was still there! Why? It was a box. It was his physical display of thinking outside the box, a goal he wanted us to work toward. There were very rarely right answers in Mr. J's class (though there were wrong answers). Mr. J challenged me to come up with my own answers and work towards building my own knowledge. He livened up the classroom with the use of non-traditional reading. Oh, we read novels. The novels we read happened to be unique and not already discussed to death.

More than anything, Mr. J challenged me to be a better writer. I've been hesitant to share this blog with him because I'm still that 18 year old senior turning in her term paper to her awesome English teacher. I relied heavily on clich├ęs and other lazy writing traps. While I once received praise for mediocre writing, Mr. J pushed me further and harder to become the best writer I could be.

Mr. J is still teaching and still inspiring the young women at the school I attended. Maybe he'll stumble upon this entry and realize the impact he had one one future teacher's life.

And now for your best teachers! Thank you so much to my fellow bloggers at Tales of an Unlikely Mother, The Crafting Hobbit and Delilah Fine and Fair for participating in my first blogshare!

In her entry, The Common Denominator, the author of Tales of an Unlikely Mother shares her experiences with Mr. St. Peter, the first teacher who shared the shocking fact with his students that he was, indeed, a person as well.

The Crafting Hobbit took time to express gratitude to three inspiring individuals in her entry Thanking the Teachers. The Crafting Hobbit chose her own hard working parents, who happened to be teachers, as well as her AP English teacher, Ms. Glick to highlight.

In Like You Mean It, the author of Delilah Fine and Fair writes a letter to her daughter about the best teacher she had, Mr. Esser, a choir director who always expected great things from his students.

Edited to Add: A late entry from the author of Books And Qi can be found here:

I also received three stories from readers who do not have blogs to share. The following three stories are from the comment section of the original blogshare entry.

From Anahita:
The best teacher ever is, hands down, my high school Latin teacher. I took Latin all four years and had him for three of them--so I think it's a major testament to his teaching ability that I managed not to get bored with him. Mr. C was and is incredibly fun; when we were learning to identify the ABBA structure in Latin poetry, he'd play Dancing Queen, we played Scrabble on a carpet to learn vocabulary; if there's any subject that can suffer from perceived mustiness, it's Latin, but I doubt any of his students would call his class anything other than fascinating. More to the point, he was always willing to answer whatever questions came up in class; regardless of whether or not they pertained to what we were doing at that moment, if it related to Latin or classics in general, he was more than willing to explore the topic and always with enthusiasm. Perhaps the most telling moment of his teaching was when our Latin class took a trip to Italy. We made the trip with two other schools and it was abundantly clear that another group of teachers had only come for the sake of a cheap trip to Rome; they rarely interacted with their students and when they did, it seemed like a burden. In contrast, Mr. C went out of his way to talk to all his students on the trip; before going he asked us what we were excited about and--remarkably--actually remembered what we said and made sure to talk to us about it during the trip. He is the one of the most important reasons I am a Classics major and the best teacher I've ever had by far.

From Laura Beth:
I have two stories. One is about a teacher I had, another is about a teacher I know.

My fifth grade science teacher, Mrs. Dean, was phenomenal. When we studied chemistry, I showed her a short report I'd written outside of class on carbon monoxide. I had weird obsessions as a kid, and CO was one of them. Anyway, she not only loved it but let me read it to the class and field a few questions.

She also ran something called Starlab every year for the whole school. It was basically an inflatable dome-thing that we all crawled into, and she'd project the constellations onto the ceiling and tell the stories behind a bunch of them. That's how I got interested enough in astronomy to memorize constellations and star names and such.

She and I have stayed in touch. We always had a special bond, maybe because she was the emcee at the spelling bees I won, or maybe just because our personalities clicked. When I was a depressed 8th-grader, I could go visit her and get a much-needed hug. When I was choosing a college, she told me everything she loved about IU (her husband's, and now my, alma mater) and came to my graduation party. When she retired last year, she sent me her contact info so we could keep in touch. All this from a teacher who really only had me in class for an hour every day for a year, half my lifetime ago.

The other teacher who deserves a mention is my best friend, Kate (known to her students as Miss Szczypka). She teaches first grade and is an absolute angel. She has the perfect enthusiasm, energy, and heart for teaching kids. She is the most understanding person I know.

I have Asperger's Syndrome (which I sometimes call autism-lite). Instead of being afraid of having a "weird" friend like a lot of people I've encountered, Kate embraces me just as I am. She has, in a way, been a teacher to me, helping me learn ways to deal with my sensory issues and emotions. And then she takes her experience with me back to her classroom--she has taught several kids on the autism spectrum, and she always tells me how thankful she is to know me, because knowing me helps her know ways to handle her more challenging students. She asks me for advice, sometimes, for broad issues relating to disabilities or issues I have or have had.

Kate is the teacher I wish I'd had, and I am so happy that there are children who get the experience of being taught and nurtured by her.

From Emily:
My favorite teacher for all four years of high school was my French teacher, Mr. S I started high school with the goal of becoming a microbiologist and eventually working for the CDC. I had had an amazing 7th grade science teacher, Ms. H., who had made science my favorite subject for two years. Although I had loved science in middle school, high school science bored me to death. I was excited to take Introduction to Physics and Earth Sciences, but the class turned out to be a joke. I was never challenged to do much of anything and I lost interest quickly. At the same time, in French class I was having the time of my life. Mr. S made grammar fun and, often times, hilarious. He introduced us to funny music videos from the early 1990s to teach us vocabulary. We played games every week to review grammar like verb drills and bingo. He also used French culture as a way to teach us to appreciate art and history. He found ways to incorporate French grammar and culture into everything.

This creative thinking made his class most everyone’s favorite, but he wasn’t famous for his lectures; he was famous for his food. Mr. S is a skilled baker and lover of food. At the beginning of every year, Mr. S wrote down every student’s birthday so that he could give them their own special cake to share with the class. If you had a favorite flavor, it was yours on your birthday. I once asked Mr. S why he made so many cakes every year even when he was extremely busy. He told me that not every student would get a cake or party at home and he wanted them to have a special day so every year he would make cakes.

As I also mentioned, Mr. S loved food, which seems very appropriate for a French teacher. Much of French culture is food related. To help us understand this relationship, Mr. S taught us how to cook. Every year we would have a French dinner for the upper level students after school. We would all gather together and make a huge authentic dinner to share. As I’m sure you’re wondering, yes, we did have some epic disasters. I will never forget the chocolate mousse that failed. It looked dreadful, but we all sampled it and complimented the cooks. We learned to appreciate each other’s company during those dinners and how to work as teams. Our recipes didn’t always succeed, but we always had a great time together.

Now that I’ve told you why everyone else loved Mr. S, I want to share with you my own reason. As I said in the beginning, I was no longer challenged in science class, but French was a new kettle of fish. I soon realized that French was to become my forte. I was addicted to learning the language. I was always ahead in my homework, sometimes even two chapters ahead. It looked like I might run into the same problem I had in science, but Mr. S didn’t just ignore my boredom. He gave me extra books to read in class. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that. I’ve always preferred to teach myself, if I can. This is a strange thing to say on the Best Teacher Blog Share. Most people I know think I’m crazy for doing this, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love going my own pace and learning what I want to learn. Mr. S let me do this every year. He even let me take his advanced class during my lunch period so I could keep up the pace. (I’m starting to sound like Hermione Granger now.) In my junior year, he let me make up literature classes for myself. He even let me design my own syllabi and decide on my final project. It might sound like Mr. S was just getting me out of his hair, but that wasn’t the case. He genuinely wanted to help me learn and in my own way. Now, it is thanks to Mr. S’s guidance from the sideline, that I am working towards getting a French literature PhD. After all my hard work, he told me that I should pursue French to the highest level I could and convinced me that I could do it when I was hesitant to consider it.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated! It was wonderful to hear stories about so many wonderful, caring educators! 


  1. Thanks again for the inspiration to write about my favorite teacher! :)

  2. I'm going to go make my post right now.


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