because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

When the Teacher Doesn’t ‘Get’ Your Kid: a #LessonLearned by Marilyn Gardner

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I “met” Marilyn Gardner when she was Freshly Pressed with the fabulous post “Dull Women Have Immaculate Coffee Tables.” As a total neatnik, I immediately took offense. But I quickly calmed down. Marilyn had so many fabulous things to say.

Cool things to know about Marilyn: She was raised in Pakistan and tasted her first strawberry in Afghanistan. She has 5 children born on 3 continents – 2 born at a hospital overlooking the Nile River. She loves tea and scones, especially in London. And she wants to be buried with her Passport.

Marilyn’s blog is called Communicating.Across.Boundaries. You should follow her on Twitter @marilyngard.

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Click on the teacher lady's butt to see other #LessonsLearned

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When The Teacher Doesn’t “Get” Your Kid by Marilyn Gardner

The F could not be disguised. No matter how skilled my son was with the fine-point of a Sharpie, we could tell that it was not an A+ in English. If the pen smudge hadn’t given it away, then the comments would have: “Does not do his homework. Disorganized. Enthusiastic in class.”  Even though I had heard the comments before and knew they came from a drop-down list on a computer program, they still stung. This was my easy-going, bright, 16 year-old, and he loves writing. How can he be getting an F?

School had always been a challenge for Jonathan and by default, me. Had I the ability and had he been a first-born, I would probably have decided to home-school but he was the youngest of five and I had become a relaxed parent, learning that a poor grade in high school didn’t necessarily equate to a life of underachieving. I had also learned that I could occasionally indulge in the immature act of locking myself in my room to escape, that unless blood was flowing there was no need to panic, and that hiding a secret stash of wine and chocolate did not make me an alcoholic or a binge drinker/eater – it made me a mom who knew how to coddle herself and engage in “self-care”.

Except when they don't.

I have tremendous respect for teachers and early on I realized although we may differ on the details, we both had the same goal in mind – that my children achieve their potential in an academic setting. Or, mostly we had the same goal in mind. Occasionally there was the teacher that did not seem to think there was potential, and that was the challenge presented with the F. While on the surface it looked like the F was a product of laziness and disorganization, on further scrutiny it was clear that the F was a product of Jonathan and the English teacher butting heads. The English teacher was a newbie and a realist. My son is an old soul and a romantic. This is a kid that spent a Friday night in October at an event called “Waking Jack Kerouac” in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is not your average student. And if I am honest, she is not the first teacher to face frustration with him in the classroom.

So there we were. Jonathan on one side, teacher on the other, me in between. If there was ever a time to put in the ear plugs and shout “I’m not listening! I’m not listening” to both of them, this was it.  But the reality was (and is) that I need to hear and understand both sides. Life is not about others understanding us, although it’s nice when it happens.

Life is about seeing from both points of view and helping negotiate understanding between the two.

I don’t think this teacher will ever get Jonathan, and the outcome will not necessarily be a grade that is pretty, no matter how much he tries to disguise it with a sharpie. But she isn’t there just to ‘get’ him. She has a classroom full of students, many with far more difficult circumstances than my son. Although I desperately want her to understand and appreciate this child that drives me crazy and that I would give my life for, it’s not a requirement and doesn’t mean she isn’t a good teacher with other, more mainstream, students.

The great thing about this story is that in the midst of the defeat of an F from one teacher, another heard Jonathan playing piano two days later, stopped in and said “I don’t know if you know this, but you are known as an outstanding musician by the faculty in the arts department.”

“Thank you” he said. “My peers don’t think so.”

“Your peers don’t know shit,” she responded.

He grinned until he fell asleep that night.

@Tweet This Twit @rasjacobson

The Horror of Public Speaking: A #LessonLearned by Chrystal H.

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There's @gumballgirl64!

Enter my iPad cover giveaway

Chrystal H. has loved math for as long as she can remember.  In 6th grade, she decided to be a math teacher. At the time, she wanted to teach 5th grade math, since that is what she knew best. When she got to high school, Algebra I and Algebra II changed her mind.

Amazingly, Chrystal’s lesson learned is not from a favorite math teacher. It is a lesson that came from an English teacher who taught her more than English. How cool is that? You can follow Chrystal at The Spirit Within or on Twitter at @gumballgirl64.

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Click on the teacher lady's hand to see other people who have written about "Lessons Learned"!

The Horror of Public Speaking

In 10th grade, the English curriculum was set up so that we took one quarter of poetry, one quarter of essay writing, one quarter of public speaking, and spent one quarter learning how to write a research paper. The poetry unit was fun, the essay writing challenging, and the research paper was a skill I knew I would need the following year for US History. But public speaking? How I dreaded that part of the year!

As a child, I was painfully shy. As an adolescent, the idea of public speaking was terrifying. (I must not have realized at the time that teaching involves public speaking every day!) Mr. Tibbetts taught that part of the 10th grade year and was one of the few male teachers at my all-girls school. I was a little afraid of him to begin with, since he had a reputation as the only teacher who could spot gum in a student’s mouth from 100 paces. Fortunately, I found out that he could also be kind and supportive when a student needed it.

We had to write and deliver informative speeches, persuasive speeches, and personal history speeches. We learned about breathing, eye contact, and speaking slowly.

It was awful.

And it was wonderful.

Although I hated having to get up in front of my classmates, worried that they would judge me harshly, I loved Mr. Tibbetts. He was always encouraging, constructively critical, and extremely patient with this shy math geek.

Senior year, we were given semester-long electives from which to choose, and I chose to take Mr. T’s classes both semesters – even though one of them was Drama, which had the requirement that we memorize and deliver a speech from a play.  I chose Hamlet’s soliloquy, and 30 years later, I still remember the first part of it!

To be, or not to be–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them.

Through Mr. T’s guidance, I “took arms” against the pains of public speaking, and by opposing them, I have found myself able to stand in front of a class, in front of the whole school, even in front of my church, and speak.

Not too long ago, I learned my amazing teacher — the man who took the time to help me in a subject that was a weakness for me — had passed away. He was truly one of the best teachers I ever had; he helped me overcome my fear of public speaking, encouraged me to work at things that did not come easily to me, and most importantly, taught me the ability to spot gum in a student’s mouth from 100 paces.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Tibbetts.

What pieces do you remember reciting when you were in school? Could you deliver things with ease or were you a train-wreck?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

The Day Mrs. Dean Saved My Life: Guest Post by Annie Wolfe

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Annie -- all grown up!

Annie Wolfe from Six Ring Circus is my guest blogger today, and she has a great teacher memory. But before we get to that, a little hoo-ha about Annie. Annie went to college, locked eyes with a handsome man in her anatomy class, and they got to studying anatomy.

I mean, they got married.

Before she knew it, she was a stay-at-home mother to four energetic children. (She was very fertile.)

These days Annie writes about her children — Speedy, Princess, Dictator and Taz , and I must say, they make great material. Annie’s circus resides in the Heartland, where life should be simple but, with a family of six, life rarely is. I don’t know how she does it; I’m just glad she does. Read her post, check out her blog, and if you like Twitter, you can follow her @Annie6rc.

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The Day Mrs. Dean Saved My Life

I’m a school-loving nerd. The intense grin on my face in that photo says it all. (My mom made those sweet culottes and the handkerchief shirt.) I ran eagerly to my first day of kindergarten, nap mat in hand. There was never a day I didn’t want to go to school.

Annie in 1st grade!

I will always remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Dean. Mean Mrs. Dean had a reputation with the other children for being tough. When I heard she was going to be my teacher I shuddered a little. She had the look of a mean old troll. I was sure I wouldn’t like her.

I was a studious child, very organized and task driven. I liked to get things done, but I worried I might not live up to grumpy old troll standards.

I quickly fell in love with Mrs. Dean’s no-nonsense attitude. She had eyes in the back of her head. While writing on the chalkboard, she could easily call by name and reprimand a troublemaker. Her head did not even swivel around slightly. To me, this was proof of her supernatural troll-like powers.

Troll or not, I felt so comfortable next to her stocky frame. I did not have to look very far up to find her crinkled face. She cackled when she laughed. I really loved her ability to run the classroom but I also grew to love her as a person. I specifically remember the day I fell in love with her heart.

We had a classroom reading chart with stickers to mark our progress. Once you had enough stickers, you got a free book. I was a crazy-obsessed reader and the idea of a book for a prize was incredible. I had a list of books to mark on the chart but I had to wait in line at Mrs. Dean’s desk to get my stickers. I was in the middle of the line and I had to pee so badly. I didn’t want to leave to go to the bathroom and return to stand at the very end. I was anxious.

I danced the clench-my-thighs-knee-wiggle dance. Finally, the call of nature could not be ignored. I dashed to the bathroom and hurried to pull down my pants. A warm rush was met with panic in my heart. I tried desperately to dry my pants with toilet paper. I stuffed ridiculous amounts of it into my underwear. It does no good to make a toilet paper diaper after you have peed yourself.

I remember whispering to the little girl in the mirror, “You’re going to have to be brave and go out there for help.” I was mortified. My entire class was lined up around Mrs. Dean. Everyone would know I had peed my pants like a baby.

I sucked in my breath and marched out to her desk. Mrs. Dean took my hand, told the class she would be right back, and walked me down the hall. She whisked me out so quickly, it saved me from much humiliation.

The feeling of my hand in hers was powerful. Her petite yet strong stature was reassuring. I know she comforted me with what she said, although the words are forgotten. Mrs. Dean didn’t make me feel stupid. She held my hand all the way to the office, where I called my parents.

I will always remember how she respected my feelings. She understood how potentially embarrassing the situation was for me. I wasn’t just a child to her, but a person to respect. I think sometimes adults marginalize issues that children find significant. A wise adult and excellent teacher can see things through the eyes of a child. Mrs. Dean was a very wise woman and most definitely an excellent teacher.

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If you have writing chops and are interested in writing about a Lesson You Have Learned, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

If You're Lucky: Guest Post by Chase McFadden

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Enter my reading glasses giveaway which ends December 16th. Details HERE.

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Today’s guest blogger sharing his teacher memory is the amazing Chase McFadden from Some Species Eat Their Young. Chase shares another blog with Leanne ShirtliffeStuff Kids Write. I don’t know how I first stumbled upon Chase’s stuff, but I subscribed immediately.

I honestly get giddy when his stuff rolls in. Chase is a comic genius. He’s got like forty-two kids, and he lives on this farm where everyone is always filthy all the time. Or else they are wielding light sabres. Or trying to dig up enormous rocks. Excellent, right?

I think somebody in that family is doing laundry at all times, but I’ll bet Chase is a good sport about it. He manages to find the rainbow behind every cloud. Or the pot of gold at the foot of every rainbow. Chase probably finds the leprechaun. You know what I mean? He’s that guy with the positive outlook. You should follow him on Twitter @Chase_McFadden. Don’t forget the underscore. If you don’t get it right, you’ll be following another dude.

And that would be unfortunate. And creepy.

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If You’re Lucky

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education.

That teacher who genuinely believes she teaches people first, a subject second.

That teacher wise enough to realize that if you’re treated with basic human values — respect, empathy, and love – you’ll drink the Kool-Aid, no matter the flavor.

That teacher who takes a vested interest in you, outside of your ability to compose an expository essay or identify a poetic structure.

That teacher who is in the stands one Saturday when your team takes down the mighty Camels.

Luck is good.

That teacher who greets you at the door Monday morning with a smile and asks about your weekend fishing trip.

That teacher who talks less and listens more.

That teacher who you don’t want to disappoint, which is powerful, because when you’re 17 or 18 you oftentimes aren’t thinking about disappointing yourself.

That teacher who instinctively understands that disappointment is a much more meaningful motivational tool than fear and crafts relationships accordingly.

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education who sees strengths and aptitudes in you that you may be unable – or unwilling – to recognize in yourself.

That teacher who gives you the freedom to explore.

That teacher who asks, “What do you want to write about?”

That teacher who hands back your collection of humorous fictional stories, the stories you worked on for the better part of your senior year, with a simple note attached: These are wonderful. You’re going to have the best-written reports in your firm.

That teacher who tries not to cringe when you tell her you are going to college to study engineering.

That teacher who knows that isn’t what’s in your heart, in your soul, but encourages you just the same.

That teacher who knows there are some things a person just has to figure out for himself.

If you’re lucky, you have that one teacher during your formal education who believes in you more than you believe in yourself.

I’m lucky.

I had Ms. Watne.

What did you think you wanted to be when you were in high school? Are you doing it?

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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola: Guest Post by Mark Kaplowitz

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Mark Kaplowitz

My guest blogger today is Mark Kaplowitz. I started cyber-crushing on MarKap the minute he came onto the blogging scene. Many of his earliest pieces were nostalgic pieces that made me long for the days of metal lunchboxes (like he wrote about HERE) and action figures (like he wrote about HERE). His writing is punchy and hilarious. I can’t understand why he hasn’t been discovered and published already. I would totally buy his books. (You hear that publishers? He’s already sold one copy!) You can find Mark’s blog HERE and follow him on Twitter at @MarkKaplowitz. Thanks for sharing your teacher memory, Mark. I now understand  your fear of crayons.

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My First Grade Teacher Must Have Had Stock In Crayola

Ms. Deagle seemed normal on the first day of first grade, as she stood at the front of the room and announced that she rewarded good work with scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers.  I thanked my lucky stars that I had not been assigned to the ancient Mrs. Krabcik, who, it was rumored, bit the erasers off students’ pencils to make errors impossible to hide.

There had been no stickers in Kindergarten, and I was excited that, at last, my brilliance would be properly remunerated. As Ms. Deagle handed out a purple-inked mimeograph, called a “ditto,” I prepared to impress my new teacher with my wizardry at addition or spelling.

The ditto, however, contained neither sums nor words to be completed, but an uncolored picture of children sitting in a classroom. “I thought we would start first grade with a little coloring assignment,” Ms. Deagle said, standing with her hands locked behind her back.  “I make two assumptions about all of your coloring work. One, that all of the pictures will be outlined in black. And two, that none of the colors will smudge.  Please check your work before you hand it to me, to make sure my assumptions hold true.”

Not the pack Mark used.

I outlined the ditto in black and colored it in, making the wisest selections I could from my shiny new 64-pack of Crayola crayons, with perfect points and untorn wrappers. The ditto took close to an hour to complete, and blackened the heel of my coloring hand.  I was tired but ready to proceed to more intellectually challenging material.

But the second assignment was another coloring ditto, as was the one after that. My first day of first grade was devoted entirely to coloring, and the last assignment of the day — a beach scene that made me long for the summer vacation just ended — had so many items that I had to take the ditto home with me. On the morning of the second day, we lined up before Ms. Deagle’s desk to have our work reviewed and, if acceptable, obtain a sticker for it. My stomach churned as my turn approached.

“Not bad, Mark,” Ms. Deagle said, scanning my work like a museum curator. “But I can see where you let the black outlining bleed into the ocean here. Please be more careful in the future.” I said I would, and thanked her for the sticker she pressed onto the top left corner of the ditto. As I scratched the sticker and inhaled the aroma of pepperoni pizza, I rejoiced that I had survived the coloring trial.

But the arithmetic that I’d been counting on did not come that day, either. Instead, we were given more coloring to do: an 11×17 mural of school buses lined up in front of a school, ready to cart happy children away to happy homes. I wished that I could join them. I used more care when coloring adjacent to black outline, but still the crayon bled, making my buses look muddy.

As the weeks and months passed, the coloring assignments did not abate. Coloring appeared to be the only skill that Ms. Deagle deemed worth teaching.  Once in a while we would get a math or reading assignment—a treat to be saved for last and savored—but it was a momentary and inconsequential digression from our art.

Imagine being six years old and coloring until 10 o’clock every night. A century earlier and I could have been standing before a lathe. True, I was not going to lose a hand coloring. But sometimes it sure felt like it. And not all students were as skilled as I.

Emmy, one of my classmates, was quiet and had no friends that I could see.  She was also slow in her work and had trouble following directions. She colored in defiance of the lines, saved her black crayon for tests that required a No. 2 pencil, and was so behind in her assignments that Ms. Deagle would lock her in the classroom during recess.

When that punishment did not work, Ms. Deagle locked Emmy in the closet. As we filed out the door for lunch, each of us peered through the closet window at a scared and timid Emmy looking out.  I don’t know if Emmy’s work improved after that, but mine certainly did.

By the spring, my parents had compared notes with the notes of my classmates’ parents, and decided it was time for a meeting with the principal about dear Ms. Deagle.  I remember hearing about the meeting, and that the principal had promised to do something. I also remember how nothing changed. But I survived Ms. Deagle’s first grade and moved on to second grade where, in only a few short weeks, I relearned the alphabet. Emmy was left back — with another teacher, I hope.

I picture Ms. Deagle today, retired and watching cable news programs in her den. In one segment, parents sit with their child and a lawyer, and say they are suing their child’s school because “chaining students to their desks is an unacceptable practice in the 21st Century.” And Ms. Deagle shakes her head, scratches and sniffs a nearby sticker, and calls her sister to complain about how educational standards have slipped.

What was the most lame assignment you ever had to do in school? Or what was your least favorite color in the 64-box of crayons.

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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!
 

Damage Done: Guest Post by Leonore Rodrigues

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Leonore Rodrigues

Today’s teacher story comes from guest blogger Leonore Rodrigues from As a Linguist. Leonore and I connected because of our love of language, weird words, and proper punctuation. As it turns out, we have quite a few real life things in common. 

Leonore’s a teacher and she just wrote a lovely piece called Intermission. It is exactly what I’ve been feeling recently, and she wrote it so beautifully. Please check it out after you read what she wrote here today. Also feel free to follow her on Twitter at @asalinguist. Thanks for helping me out, L.

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Damage Done

I can remember the names of most of my teachers I’ve had from kindergarten until graduation from high school, which is something about me that freaks out my boyfriend just a little bit. I try to tell him that there is still plenty that I don’t remember about school, but then I go and spoil it by mentioning that I also remember most of my first-day outfits.

I don’t know why these details stick, but the truth is that I do remember not only names, but little details about most of my teachers: my second grade teacher hated when we used short pencils; my fifth grade teacher showed tons of film strips; my ninth grade English teacher used the word ‘bitch’ on the first day of class and we loved her for it; my eleventh grade trig teacher smelled like cigarettes, coffee, and chalk; and my twelfth grade Calculus teacher was sweet and flirty, but was probably just a stone’s throw from being a dirty old man instead.

These details stand out but they don’t mark the teachers as being particularly great or terrible. When I do think of my favorite teachers, different memories arise. My sixth grade Math and History teacher’s silly manner made his classes fun and interesting. My eleventh grade American History teacher taught me how to write clearly and concisely, and he took me seriously, which helped me gain more confidence in myself and my ideas. My twelfth grade English teacher – who is probably my favorite teacher of those years – built on that confidence and challenged us every day with thought-provoking lessons.

Unfortunately, not all of the memories were good.

My third grade teacher, Mrs. G. was rather stand-offish, which in and of itself wasn’t a bad thing, but it didn’t win her many supporters, either. Her lessons were straight-forward and predictable, which for me usually meant boring. I thrived when a teacher gave us unusual projects or pushed us with harder material. Even clumsy classroom manners were forgiven as long as the teacher had passion and energy to inject into the lesson. Mrs. G. gave us neither creative nor passionate lessons.

Sockcat

The moment that stands out in my mind was the day she assigned a project to make a puppet. It didn’t matter what kind of puppet it was – it could be a sock puppet or it could be a 10-string marionette for all she cared. It could be a princess, a dog, or a prison inmate. We were left to our own devices and given no examples, guidelines, or criteria.

I’d seen some dolls that T, my best friend, had in her house that her mother had made. We talked about it and she said she was probably going to do a puppet similar in style to the dolls. Not having the slightest idea of what kind of puppet I could even hope to make, I asked Mrs. G if T and I could do the same sort of puppet if I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

She not only told me “no” about the puppet project, but she also quite bluntly told me that I depended too much on T, that I should be more original and not just copy my friend, and that it probably wasn’t even healthy for us to be such close friends anyway. I came away from school that day with the sense that my teacher thought I was a parasite and a fake. Not knowing any better, I thought she must be right. I felt like a girl with any real talent, intelligence, or integrity wouldn’t need to get ideas from anyone else, and so it must be true that I’m useless on my own. Nothing she did for the rest of the year ever disabused me of that notion.

At the end of the year, Mrs. G. assigned T and me to different fourth grade classes so we could break our apparent co-dependence on each other. We stayed just as close as we’d been, despite the separation. Slowly, I began to repair the damage that had been done to my self-esteem. To this day, however, I find that there’s still a tiny voice in the back of my mind that ask, “Was she right? Was I really just getting valid help with a project, or was I copying? Am I really just a hack?”

A teacher’s influence can indeed be deeply-felt for many years afterward. I wish my 9-year-old self had gotten angry and fought back, but I was lucky to have good teachers in the following years to combat the damage done. It took a long time, but at least now my 40-year-old self knows how to fight back.

Was there a teacher who really sapped your self-esteem? Did you ever get it back?

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If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

 

Those Who Can't Teach: Guest Post by Tamara Lunardo

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Tamara-Out-Loud

I am beyond thrilled to have Tamara Lunardo as my guest blogger today. Where I sometimes get mired in the details, Tarama is a big picture kind of girl. Tamara’s writing is as fresh, edgy and vibrant as she is. Gentle and compassionate, Tamara (pronounced Ta-MAH-ra) is a wonderful read. Note: Just don’t mispronounce her name or call her Tammy or she’ll punch you in the throat.

Tamara has an essay featured in Alise Wright’s book Not Alone: Stories Of Living With Depression, a compilation of a wide range of experiences, voices, and opinions of individuals who have lived with and continue to live with depression. And whether she’s writing about depression or tattoos, Tamara makes you think. She makes this little Jewish girl think about Jesus a lot. And that’s something.

You can find Tamara at HERE or Twitterstalk her at @tamaraoutloud.

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Those Who Can’t Teach

It was my senior year of high school, and I was a frequent skipper of my coast-able classes, as bored, brainy teens are wont to be. One class in particular was on my skip list, partly because it was the last period of the day and partly because I felt I could gain nothing from it whatsoever: Yes, I hated English.

To be accurate, I loved English; I hated that English class. I hated hearing the assistant principal use the pseudo-word “irregardless” when he visited our classroom, and I hated seeing the teacher blink blankly as I railed against it in intellectual-teen angst. I hated her insecure explanations and her flimsy lessons. I hated being so ill instructed in a subject I so well loved. And so I opted out of attendance when I could, and I snapped out right answers when I couldn’t. I was not high in the running for teacher’s pet.

And then I had a change of heart.

I took my SATs and got a near-perfect score on the verbal portion, which resulted in letters of courting from various collegiate English departments. So I decided that this was the time and way to make amends, to offer this teacher evidence that perhaps I’d listened to and learned something from her after all, even though we both knew the truth. I approached her after class with uncharacteristic zeal and shared my exciting news.

“Yes,” she vocally shrugged, “that happens sometimes.”

• • •

I walked into a restaurant in my old hometown last year, and I saw that teacher eating alone at a table. She was thinner, fainter, and still as blank. My heart went out to her, and I had to say, “Hello.”

I reintroduced myself and let her know of my modest successes with the English language since my 12-year departure from her class. I offered my degree and freelance writing and editing career as evidence that perhaps I’d listened to and learned something from her after all, even though we both knew the truth. She blinked worn eyelids toward my contrite face and said without a shred of remembrance or interest, “Oh, that’s nice.”

And I walked away with uncharacteristic zeal because I thought, It really is.

And we both knew the truth.

Did you have a teacher you could’ve done without? Were you a class-skipper or a teacher’s pet? And on a scale of 1-10, how much does “irregardless” piss you off?

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

Mrs. Clayton #twits

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Kelliefish!

I am excited to have Kelliefish13 as a guest blogger today. Kelliefish is an avid traveler. In fact, she went to Italy this summer and documented her many adventures and took many beautiful photos.

Kelliefish started her blog to work on her writing skills because she has some real challenges when in comes to writing; something she addresses in this post.

Kelliefish is one of the sweetest fishies in the sea. Thank you for being so honest, Kel, and for helping me with my project. When you are done reading her teacher memory, check out her blog HERE.

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Mrs. Clayton

Mrs. Clayton was my favourite teacher. I had her when I was about 7. She allowed me the freedom to be myself and gently guided me and encouraged me to do my best. I remember being allowed to take my writing book outside under the tree just outside the classroom to write poems about the plants I saw there; somehow she got me to read one of my pieces in front of the entire school (of about 100 students) which, at the time, was a miracle given how shy I was.

She was also the teacher with whom I realised some of my weaknesses. While waiting for her to mark another child’s work, I watched her read their work easily and then send them off with only a few suggestions for improvement, and then I stood beside her as I handed her mine. She looked at my writing and asked me to read it aloud for her. I noticed the difference, but once we finished with the exercise, she didn’t treat me any differently and gave me some suggestions to help to fix my spelling. What neither she nor I knew at the time was that I am dyslexic and, unlike some of the other teachers I have had since, she never made me feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough. She just accepted me as I was.

I remember how she let us put the daffodils we brought for her into dye pots so we could watch them change colour. I remember how she stood on a desk screaming while some boys with brooms chased an enormous rat out of our classroom. She taught us funny old songs that I still remember. Mrs. Clayton inspired me to become a teacher, and I hope that one day I can be as fabulous to my own students as she was to me.

What little moment can you remember from 2nd grade? Or any elementary grade?

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece of writing for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction.

Essays should be around 700-800 words.

Interested but have questions? Email me!

My information is under the Contact Me tab.

Substitute Preacher by Zach Sparer #twits

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Zach Sparer. Isn

Today’s guest blogger is Zach Sparer. I first met Zach in 1999 as a student in my 11th grade English class. He was in 5th period. I remember this because I was pregnant, and I usually hurled right before 5th period.

Zach always came to class. And he quickly stood out as an outstanding thinker and writer. His papers were flawless. His thought-process was sophisticated. I started to wonder what he would be when he grew up.

Zach watched me gain 65 pounds, and we have stayed in touch since 1999 — which some people might think is weird. Maybe it is. But whether he likes it or not, he’s pretty much stuck with me.

You can read Zach’s blog Faux Outrage HERE. Here’s his teacher memory.

• • •

Substitute Preacher

Nobody asked for my opinion, but I eventually decided that she deserved some time off.

Ms. Jacobson was pregnant after all, and pregnant women should not be required to teach fifth period English. In fact, I came to realize, pregnant women should not be required to teach any period of English. Or anything else for that matter. For a brief time, pregnant women should be entirely devoid of periods.

They should also say goodbye to: colons, ampersands, and Oxford commas. They should take a semester off — or a trimester, at the very least.

Nobody asked for my opinion, but it was settled: She should leave.

And so she did leave, in the same unremarkable way that every important person in your life leaves: quietly, the syncopation of careful footsteps echoing like a heartbeat muffled by the floorboards.

Twenty-four hours later, there was a stranger standing in front of the classroom.

• • •

The man before us wore a red scarf and was enveloped in a dark brown tweed jacket devoid, amazingly, of professorial patches on each elbow. I immediately begin to wonder whether he was disappointed that New York state law prevented him from smoking a pipe in a high school classroom. I learned that he was there to teach us F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby, among other lessons, but realized rather quickly that his outfit and demeanor were not the result of an elaborate plan to introduce and discuss the social cultures of East Egg vs. West Egg.

We paused, mouths agape.

Who was this guy?

Suddenly, it became clear what was (or wasn’t) going to happen. The students in the classroom, looking bored as usual in their tiny metal chairs, came to an immediate, telepathic understanding: This was not going to work. No one discussed the plan — there was nothing to be discussed — and nobody winked, smirked, nodded, or passed a note.

We just knew.

Looking back, our banding together so quickly was actually a beautiful moment. Pushed together between those off-beige, pockmarked concrete walls sat the girls who never picked up a pencil off the ground in their lives and the Jocks who bought them wine coolers, the Nerds and Geeks who argued about which group encompassed the other, the kids struggling with learning disabilities and the Goths who struggled with most everything else, the Motorheads, the Motor-mouths, and Chameleons — like myself — who happily blended into the background.

We quickly recognized our substitute teacher as a bitter, spiteful man. He monopolized classroom time with personal tales of woe, of his past rejections — in love and in life and in publishing — uncomfortable stories not normally shared with still-developing high school students. He sprinkled in what were to be understood an episodes of personal triumph, but we could tell that he didn’t believe his own hype. More importantly, we could tell that what he did believe was that he was superior to the substitute teacher responsibilities that he was expected to carry out, and that he felt he had been dealt a bad hand, in life and every fifth period Monday through Friday.

Throughout his tenure (a word, thankfully, I am using to mean “period during which something is held” as opposed to “status of holding one’s position on a permanent basis”), he had an unnerving habit where he would make a negative example of certain students in the classroom. He denied those deemed unworthy the right to speak up or to ask questions. He broke up groups of friends and allowed others to remain. He didn’t play favorites; rather, he played Whack-A-Mole with the young adults he felt were not worthy of dignity or confidence.

He thought that he was too good for us.

One day, he sent two of my peers to the principal’s office. They had been tossed aside because they did not show appropriate reverence to our substitute preacher. They had spoken out of turn. They were non-believers, heretics.

A few minutes after they were sent out, our “leader” began to speculate about the quality of their home lives. The students tossed from the classroom were hardly my friends, but at that moment, they were my brother and sister. I sat there shaking my head slowly, and then faster, and then not at all.

I was listening to a grown man — someone hired to inspire — ridicule his students behind their backs, in front of their peers.

I was done blending in.

My hand was raised, high in the air.

Floating.

What was it doing there, I wondered?

He was wondering, too.

“I don’t understand why you’re talking about those people. They’re not even here.”

“Why should I stop?”

“Because that’s the way I was brought up.”

He froze.

The chameleon, no longer camouflaged, seemed to have startled him.

There was a long, sweet pause.

The tension that day in the classroom eventually subsided and, a few weeks later, the congregants of fifth period English were reintroduced to a less barfy, more maternal version of Ms. Jacobson.

Time has a way of passing.

• • •

While I am uneasy with the tidy conclusion that this short-lived experience in the classroom changed my life in a truly fundamental way, I do believe that publicly speaking out that day, against a person in a position of authority, helped shape my perspective of what it means to be engaged in a functioning, polite society.

Though I am loathe to overstate the importance of this singular event, this substitute teacher — a “negative experience” by all accounts — did help me realize that the social hierarchies and classes we are crammed into (e.g., “teacher,” “student”) are not by themselves sufficiently descriptive. We are so much more — or less, as they case may be — than mere titles suggest.

I guess I learned a little bit about The Great Gatsby after all.

Got any substitute teacher stories to share?

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece of writing for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

Interested but have questions? Email me!

My information is under the Contact Me tab.

Hard Ass by Jessica Buttram #twits

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Jessica Buttram

Jessica Buttram has the best last name in the whole world. It totally catches the eye, does it not? And if her name catches your attention, jut wait. Her words draw you into her web ever further. And then you are trapped. (No, not in her butt. In her web. Can’t you guys follow a metaphor. Geez.)

Jessica is the fun-loving wife and mother to Bug and Bean as well as a kind, supportive cyber-friend who can pack a lot of snark into a few words and get away with it. Why? Because she is that cute.

Back in May, I asked a bunch of writers to help me as I prepare for the fall semester when I will not only be teaching, but I will also be running around making many poor and expensive decisions planning my son’s bar-mitzvah. I asked if they would write a memory about a most favorite teacher or uber-unfavorite teacher and the lesson they learned from this wonderful person/douche-bag.

Jess jumped on it right away and delivered me her piece way before the deadline. And as a reward, I declared she could be line leader.

So without further delay, here is Jessica’s piece. When you are done reading and commenting here, you can find her at Meet the Buttrams or Twitter stalk her at @JButtWhatWhat.

• • •

Hard Ass

He came to teach at my high school my junior year.

The summer before school started, we received a letter in the mail from him with a list of reading material, as well as our first writing assignment, to be turned in on the first day.

What?

I had attended an academically advanced school since sixth grade, and, though we had summer reading lists, not once did I have to write a paper when I should have been working on my tan lines.

Dr. Browning, one of the few high school teachers in our entire city to hold a doctorate, had us shaking in our boots, and we didn’t even know what he looked like.

I turned in that first writing assignment, handwritten on loose leaf, titled “Randy Bragg vs. Me,” the assignment being a comparative analysis of any literary character and how he related to oneself. It should have been easy, right? I mean, half of the subject I had known my entire life. I picked Randy Bragg, of Alas, Babylon, because we had read it the previous year, because it was still relatively fresh in my mind, because I had only skimmed the other reading material assigned, because I had spent much of my summer at the beach, because I had a killer tan.

My paper came back more red than not, starting with its pitiful title. What was that number written on the top? Was that my grade? I didn’t recognize it. It was foreign to me. My heart sunk. I had been told all my life that I was smart. That I could write. That I was clever and witty and who was this man to tell me otherwise?

Oh, no one of consequence.

Just the best English teacher I would ever have in life ever always period exclamation point dot com.

I ended up having Dr. Browning for two years, as he moved up to Senior English with us. I had him for Advanced Placement English both years, plus a class he invented called Literature and the Community, a proactive class intending to turn us students into contributive members of our city through studying relevant literature and twice a week volunteering somewhere in town. I personally think DB just wanted that last period of the day free so he could go home early. (JK, DB! LOL! ROFL! BYOB! NASA!)

DB was a hard ass. That first year in AP English, several students dropped out. I couldn’t make a decent grade on a paper to save my life. I had no idea what he wanted from his students. When I thought I wrote something eloquent, he lambasted my style. When I thought I wrote something informative, he scoffed at my research. I was quickly learning that English, a subject I had always breezed through before, was not easy. (Whaaaaat???)

Eventually, it got to me. My grades told me I was average in an above-average course. I was in AP Calculus and AP Art, I was a starter on the soccer team, everyone else, everywhere else was telling me I was great. So I sucked it up, approached him after class one day, and asked him if it was too late to drop out of AP English. It was hard to admit that maybe I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, but there was a tiny bit of relief waiting in the wings, knowing I would have at least a slightly lighter work load.

He told me there was no way he was letting me drop AP English.

I was shocked. I argued. Had he read my papers? He remained firm. I stomped my feet and went to my next class.

On the very next paper we turned in, I received a perfect grade. My jaw dropped. The heavens opened, angels rejoiced. I’m pretty sure I saw my dead grandfather hovering in the clouds above, starting a slow-clap in my honor. I had just found the Holy Grail.

After class, Dr. Browning told me that was the best paper I had ever written. Somehow, I knew he was exaggerating. Somehow, I knew he spared that red pen because one more less-than-stellar grade might have been the straw that broke this camel’s back. But seeing that A+ in his indisputable handwriting was enough.

I ended that year with a “B.” But I had survived my first year with the intimidating Dr. Browning.

My senior year with Dr. Browning went by more smoothly. We knew what he expected. We knew what an “A” paper should look like. We knew when his birthday was. We knew what brand of cigarettes he smoked. We knew the grade written on the top of our papers directly correlated to how strongly it smelled of nicotine and coffee (the stronger the smell, the lower the grade, as if he needed his vices just to get through our writing). We had inside jokes, we found his good graces, and we knew what it felt like to be deemed intelligent by a truly brilliant teacher.

Dr. Browning was the first teacher who told me I could write. Really, really write. And I’ll never forget the moment I doubted that, the moment Dr. Browning exalted my mediocre writing just to restore my confidence, the moment I began to believe him when he said I just had to find my voice.

I think I found it, DB.

Who was your Dr. Browning? The person who challenged you to go above and beyond?

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece of writing for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

Interested but have questions? Email me!

My information is under the Contact Me tab.