My middle school and high school years were very difficult for me socially. Sometimes, my group of friends would just decide that I wasn't cool enough to hang out with anymore. It also wasn't cool to admit that you were smart. Even some of the smart kids hid how smart they were because it wasn't cool. School was all about fitting in, and if you didn't, well, too bad for you. I was never afraid to be openly smart. I thought (and still think) that it was ridiculous to hide how smart you were just to fit in. I guess that the friends who "gave me up" were not really the type of friends I wanted in the long run, anyway.
However, no matter how bad things were, I could always go to class and feel comfortable and safe. I knew that no matter what people said to me outside of class, my teachers would still value me as a person and recognize what I could contribute. My teachers got me through. Honestly.
I went back to my middle school to observe in my seventh grade math teachers classroom over Thanksgiving break, and we talked a little bit about me in seventh grade. We had a bond, and she said it was because of my sense of humor. It was because I was the most sarcastic 13 year-old who ever existed. I had a more adult perspective on life than a lot of my peers, and I saw things from a perspective that they didn't want to, didn't, or couldn't understand. And I think that's what caused a lot of the problems.
It was so great to see her again, and when I was watching her teach, I realized why I liked her so much in seventh grade. When I was 13, I knew that I thought she was nice and a cool teacher and that we got along pretty well. I think we were kind of kindred spirits. Anyway, now I understand the theory behind why I liked her (and so many of my other teachers) so much. She strikes the perfect balance between relating to students' emotional needs and their educational needs. She had (and has) high expectations for her students. She clearly explained those expectations overall and for each lesson. She gave clear directions, and her class was organized. I never had to try to figure out what we were doing or what we were expected to do. Students learn best in an organized classroom. She has very few discipline problems.
This is not to say that her classes were the same every day, either. She varied her lessons and adjusted her plans based on what we needed. However, her expectations were consistent. She always expected us to do our best, and our best was always good enough. She constantly encouraged us to make our best better.
I saw a perfect example of the balance between relating to emotional needs and educational needs while observing in her classroom. She had the students in the computer lab working on puzzles related to the Pythagorean Theorem. It was kind of a fun activity that allowed them to use their knowledge of that theorem in a different way. It allowed for mastery beyond using pencil and paper. It was the day before Thanksgiving, so she knew the students were going to be geeked up for the break (emotional), but she knew they still needed to learn this and wanted them to learn this (educational). So she used the tools available to her to strike a balance between relating to emotional needs and educational needs. And she still had clear expectations and directions. The students were only to go to two websites, and they could only go to the site with the puzzles and a site with math games. However, they couldn't go to the math games site until she had checked that they had completed their puzzles.
When I was in middle school, we didn't have all this technology, but she did a lot with what she had available. And I was so inspired by the fact that, after 32 years of teaching, she still makes an effort to constantly improve her teaching. She said that the principal at the middle school is very supportive of teachers' efforts to improve themselves professionally. She now has different and better tools than she had nine years ago, and she's integrated them into her curriculum to help her students have the tools they need to succeed in their future education. She didn't just allow her teaching methods to become stagnant and outdated. And I am so impressed and inspired by this.
I feel like all the best teachers I had taught like this. I can honestly say in 13 years of my public education in Linden Community Schools, there was only one teacher who I thought was a bad teacher. One. I think those of you who know me well know who I'm talking about. I understand the theory behind why I liked Mrs. C. and so many of my other teachers so much. They were truly amazing.
I love teachers. They are great. And my teachers inspired me to become a teacher. Good teaching always impresses me. I love to talk about it, as you can see.