because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

From Music To Life: A #LessonLearned by Christian Emmett

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Hi Christian!

I love Christian Emmett’s blog Adventures and Insights because he is Australian and many of the things he shows me, I haven’t seen before. Plus when I read his posts, I hear them in an accent that sounds incredibly sexy. When I’m wearing six layers of clothing here in Rochester, I like knowing that it is summer Down-Under.

Christian writes with heartbreaking sincerity. Whether he is writing about Christmas remembrances or favorite bands or old lovers, I admire this about him. Please read one of his most wonderful pieces “Something Needs To Be Undone.” And follow him on Twitter at @ChristianEmmett.

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A Lesson From Music To Life

When I started high school, coincidence had Mrs. Smith change teaching jobs. She had been my music teacher during primary school and when I showed up for my first music class in 1989 I was greeted by the very same woman who taught me to sing “Day-O” and had our concert band watch “An American Tail” so that we could better play the song “Somewhere Out There”. Naturally I was a little surprised to see her but at the same time there was a measure of comfort in having a familiar face in a new environment.

In addition to being our music teacher, Mrs. Smith also assisted with the school bands. She had a real love for music, something that she tried to pass on to all her students. Her passion for music was balanced with a no-nonsense attitude, which made her a brilliant teacher – at least in my mind.

In high school, I was introduced to the tenor saxophone and became part of the concert band. The majority of my time was spent playing support to our talented altos, and I didn’t mind it at all. It meant that I could afford to be a little lax with my practice because all I really had to do was perform simple, fluid combinations of notes that were never designed to be heard above the other instruments.

The band played concerts and eisteddfods, competitions were won and lost and all the while I continued to cruise through the whole experience. Much like life, however, the concert band can be an unpredictable creature and there came a time when I faced a significant challenge. One of the songs that had been chosen for the band was “Wipeout” by the Surfaris and I was to play the most important part.

I took the music home and proceeded to completely freak out. I practiced as best I could but knew I needed more before I could do justice to the tune and the band.

Is this the instrument upon which Christian jammed?

When we started practice the next week, things began well enough. We played through our opening pieces successfully and I felt somewhat ready for a run-through of our signature tune. Of course, when life wants to test you it never does half a job. I may have been ok if I had been able to remain seated like everyone else. Instead, our conductor told me to stand up so that I could best perform my solo through better posture.

Nerves overwhelmed me. I stood up as the band began to play. I took the mouthpiece between my now parched lips and began to blow. Stricken with panic, my fingers spasmed over keys as the sound of a dying goose emanated from the bell of the instrument. Things went from bad to worse as I struggled through my solo and as the conductor called the band to a halt, I gave in to embarrassment as decided to quit the band.

It was at this moment that Mrs. Smith stepped in. We took a short recess and she guided me outside. She asked me about my practicing and I sputtered out that I had practiced but I couldn’t do it. I told her that I was no good and that I wanted to quit the band. They would be able to find someone to replace me easily enough.

For the look I got from her, she may as well have slapped me across the face. Mrs. Smith shook her head and spoke simply, her calm voice reeling in my sense of failure and replacing it with some common sense and compassion. I had always pressured myself to be the best and on occasions where I was put on the spot I always faltered. Mrs. Smith told me that all I needed to do was keep practicing. To relax, try again and not to worry about what everyone else was doing or thinking.

I did just that. I practiced that piece until I could almost do it blindfolded. We rocked the Eisteddfod that year.

I never took the time to thank Mrs. Smith for her support in that crucial moment, but I walked away from the experience armed with the knowledge that even though I will occasionally fail – it’s okay.

Opting In: A Guest Post by Wayne Borean

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I met Wayne Borean after I decided to try my hand at Twitter. I tweeted for help, and Wayne was there with the assist.

Wayne has eleventeen-seventy-hundred blogs, but his writing blog is called Through the Looking Glass. I try to stay off it because if I leave a comment, he yells at me and tells me that I should not be reading and commenting on blogs, but rather I should be working on my own book. He is right of course.

Check out Wayne’s post Doing The Password Polka. Twitterstalk Wayne at @WayneBorean. I’m so glad that the Twitterverse exists or I might have missed him altogether.

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Opting In

Mr. Field was one of my Grade 13 math teachers. In 1975 there were three Grade 13 math classes, all of which were first and second year University math classes by American standards.

Mr. Field was a card. He was probably one of the funniest teachers in the school. He was also one of the hardest working, and he made us work hard through a combination of charm, humor, and energy. No one ever skipped one of his classes. No one ever wanted too. All of the Grade 13 classes were full year courses.

Mr. Field gave us an exam at the end of January, and we were all getting ready to start a new module in the first week of February, when Mr. Field told one of us near the back of the class to close the door.

He sat on the corner of the desk staring at us for a minute, with a funny smile on his face, and then announced, “I want to tell you that you’ve completed the entire years course of instruction, ten months worth, in five months. All of you have passed. Congratulations.”

There were a series of thuds as jaws hit the floor all over the room. He then continued. “In September I looked at the class, and it seemed to me that you were far more capable than the ministry thought, so I decided on a test. I’ve been feeding you the course material at twice the pace that the ministry thinks right since the first day we meet. Yes, you really have finished the entire course. You now have a choice. You can show up for class every day, we’ll discuss a mathematical problem, and then have an open discussion. We won’t be taking attendance for the rest of the year. Or you can take the class as a spare period. It’s up to you.”

The entire class decided to show up for class every day, and we did for the rest of the year. A couple of times when people needed to take time to study for tests they asked permission to “skip” the class. Mr. Field was quite amused. Each time this happened he pointed out that he wasn’t taking attendance, but everyone kept doing it anyway.

Great teacher, Mr. Field. Great teacher.

If a teacher told you that you did not have to come to class anymore — that you had passed the course — would you still attend? And if you could audit one class “just because” and not have to worry about grades, which class would you take?

The Way Mrs. Wheeler Rolled: Guest Post by Ricky Anderson

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Does it get cuter than that folks?

For a chance to enter to win a bracelet from cutey, click HERE for details!

I’m pretty sure I met Ricky Anderson right about the time I met Tyler Tarver and Knox McCoy. They came strung together like half a six-pack. Here’s what I’ve learned about Ricky since August 2011: Snickers really satisfy him, he works on computers, and he gets precious little sleep because of that little person over there. —>

I also learned that his first grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Wheeler. Which is weird because my first grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Wheeler, so I kind of wonder if he is that Ricky kid who came to my school briefly and then disappeared. Probably not.

Please, please, please read his article “I am a Diva”.

And follow him on Twitter at @Arthur2Sheds. Don’t ask.

He’s a little defensive about that whole lack of integration thing.

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Click here for main schedule!

The Way Mrs. Wheeler Rolled

My first grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Wheeler. I found this especially fitting, seeing as how the old lady must have been ten years older than Methuselah. I was convinced if we were to give Mrs. Wheeler a sudden start, we’d have to ‘wheel her’ out on a gurney.

She was a delightful old relic, though. She was exactly twelve feet tall. She wore old lady’s perfume; the kind that made your nose wrinkle up into a prune.

I loved her.

She was the reason I went to school. The numerous bullies who traded my lunch money for a bloody nose or a black eye hardly bothered me. All my attention was focused on getting to Mrs. Wheeler’s class. It was one of my two main goals in life.

The other, of course, was to please Mrs. Wheeler. Any act that would make her happy was an accomplishment to me, no matter how minuscule. If her pencil tip were dull, I’d gladly whittle her a new one. When she needed the chalkboard erasers beat, I hastily volunteered. My hair may have resembled Ben Matlock’s when I was finished, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was the first time I can remember finding self-sacrifice enjoyable.

I did these things not only because I loved her, but also because I owed it to her. You see, some bullies were worse than others. There was a whole gang of the really mean ones that got their kicks from my posterior. I accurately nicknamed them ‘The Meanies’. They practiced judo on me every day at recess. I knew the routine well. They would surround me, and I would begin to feel the fear creep over me. The name calling and shoving would commence, and the tears and pocket change would disperse.

One day as this was taking place, yet again, something out of the ordinary happened. I was picking myself out of the dirt when a lone shadow blocked the sun. The proceedings halted like molasses in August. The onlookers scattered as Mrs. Wheeler towered over the malicious would-be thieves. I knew all would be fine when she began scolding them with those scalding words of retribution that still ring in my ears to this day, “Come now, let’s play nicely, girls.”

Do you remember any of your teachers saying or doing something that they probably couldn’t get away with now?

Dear Mr Reichert by KD Sullivan

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There she is!

I don’t exactly know through whom or when I met KD Sullivan, but I know I liked her right away. Her blog, Journey to Epiphany is filled with beautiful posts that have inspired me. KD has been a number one supporter to me from the moment I asked for help with this project. She has been waiting a long time for this post to go live.

But KD is nothing if not patient. She is a gentle, true spirit. And I urge you to check out what she has done at her place. One of my most favorite posts is called “Painting Grace Graffiti or How I Almost Quit Blogging.”

You should absolutely follow her on Twitter @kdsullivan. And her new Facebook page is here!

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Dear Mr. Reichert

At the time, Mr. Reichart was under-appreciated. We thought he was just plain weird. He had the worst comb-over I’d ever seen: badly dyed, jet-black hair started two fingers above the top of his ear and swept over his otherwise void-of-hair head. With bulbous eyes, slightly yellowed skin and a thin frame, he looked like a character in an old Peter Lorrey film. He always wore a short-sleeved dress shirt. But the most interesting thing about Mr. Reichart’s appearance was the wad of spittle that moved from his top lip to his bottom lip. I used to take guesses as to which lip the spittle would settle at the end of class.

Despite his geeky appearance, Mr. Reichart was the best English Literature teacher. Ever. I remember very little about high school, and even less about actual class time in high school, but I have three very vivid memories of this wonderful teacher’s class.

The first was when he taught a unit on English poets. He asked a question that I’ve never forgotten. He asked:

“Would you rather have some one tell you that they love you despite your faults, or someone who pretends to be blind to them?”

At the time I thought I’d rather have someone be blind to them, but as wisdom and maturity have taken their toll on a horribly flawed me, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather the first.

Portrait of Chaucer from a manuscript by Thoma...
Image via Wikipedia

Mr. Reichart made us memorize the Prologue to Canterbury Tales by Chaucer in old English! He told us that some day, we would see each other in a bar and repeat it…and if my memory was good enough to recognize or even remember any of the students in his class, I would still be able to quote it. Verbatim. And because I home-schooled my children, I made them memorize it as well.

My last memory of this eccentric man was that he created a holiday. He called it Lacey Day. It doesn’t happen on the same day every year, and in the Chicago area usually comes in early May. It occurs the first day the tree leaves are barely unfolding; when you look toward the sky you will find a tapestry of green lace.

I don’t know if Mr. Reichart is still alive, but I have much to thank him for. He sparked a love in me for English literature. He treated me — and all of his students — as though we were already adults with his talk of love and meeting in bars. He believed we could do hard things. But most importantly, he taught me how to make a holiday out of the common, and find beauty in the every day. So for a couple of days each spring, I look up to the tops of the trees and remember dear Mr. Reichert.

What literature did you have to memorize in school? Can you still do it? Which former teacher of yours would you like to meet in a bar? What drink would you order him or her? What would you have?

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!

Mrs. Schmidt's Wonderful World: Guest Post by Kathy English

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Kathy English

My guest blogger today is Kathy English, one of the very first people I met in the Blogosphere. Or, I guess I was directed to her. Her blog, The Mom Crusades, is filled with funny peeves and basically daily, snarky observations about parenting. Kathy has had a tough year. Last November, her then 9-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After surgery, hospitalization, radiation, chemotherapy and endless doctor’s appointments, some semblance of normalcy has been restored. Kinda. I was surprised and  appreciative when Kathy volunteered to write a teacher memory. She has such an open heart. 

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Mrs. Schmidt’s Wonderful World

In sixth grade, I attended a school with three middle school grades sharing the high school building. As a new kid, I quickly learned to avoid the seniors’ hallway, to avoid the principal as he was quick to paddle students for wrong-doings (yes, principals were equipped with wooden paddles back in the day, and they used them). It was the first year I would rotate classrooms, and I had to memorize where all my classes would be and in what order.

I wasn’t ready.

By sheer rotten luck, I was placed in the class of a teacher who’d had one of my sisters a few years earlier. He was one of those people you look at and wonder, “How the heck did THAT guy ever get to be a teacher?” A toothpick grew permanently out of the corner of his mouth, he was sarcastic, and he talked to us with the vocal inflection that automatically let us know he thought we were “duh-mb.”

By sheer blessed luck, a counselor entered my room on the second day of school and asked for volunteers to switch into a self-contained sixth grade classroom in order to even out class sizes. My hand shot up in the air so fast, I felt like I could have touched the ceiling. I had chosen to sit in the back of the room, hoping to avoid the attention of the teacher, but there I was, practically jumping up and down in my seat, Arnold Horseshack style. (Young’uns can google that reference. He’s from the old TV show Welcome Back, Kotter!)

The counselor selected a handful of us, and we grabbed our books and headed down the hall to the wonderful world of Mrs. Schmidt, sixth grade teacher. Mrs. Schmidt was tall and slender, with wild red curly hair, and a commanding presence. She was ready for business from day one, and guided all of us with a firm hand, a sense of humor, and sternness when necessary.

While other kids might have thought it strange that we didn’t change classes or have different teachers, we were in our own little world with Mrs. Schmidt: caught in a happy cocoon of elementary school-like security and sixth grade learning.

I couldn't find any images that said: "Royal Highness of Reading"!

During the last week of sixth grade, the school was prepared to hand out various awards at a school-wide assembly. The ever-perceptive Mrs. Schmidt knew that there would be many of us who – literally – didn’t make the grade and would not receive any of those awards. In my scrapbook, I still have four, faded-purple dittoed awards – outlined in crayon and glued onto construction paper, all made by hand and personally signed by Mrs. Schmidt. What are they for? “Scientific Achievement” and “Social Studies Skills”; another stated I was the “Royal Highness of Reading” and declared that I possessed the “Imagination to Travel anywhere and everywhere in the Kingdom of Infinity.” I also earned the award for “Clever Wit.”

Each of the 30 or so students in the class was given at least as many personal awards from Mrs. Schmidt, each read aloud joyfully before being presented, as if it were the first time our teacher had ever given such awards to anyone.

Mrs. Schmidt had a knack for making everyone feel special, for recognizing the individuality in each student and finding a way to nurture it. She was certainly a tough act to follow.

Every time end-of-the-year school award ceremonies roll around, I remember Mrs. Schmidt and how she found something personal about each of her students – to let them know they were recognized and appreciated.

Did you ever win any goofy awards at school? What did you win?

Hidden Potential: Guest Post by Saucy B.

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Saucy B

Do you wear reading glasses? If so, don’t forget to enter my reading glasses giveaway which ends December 16th. Details HERE.

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My guest blogger today sharing her teacher memory is Saucy B. She pretends to be tough — she lives in northern New Jersey and claims if you call her a Jersey Girl, she will kick you in the shins — but for all her attitude, Saucy B comes with an enormous side order or good old-fashioned mama love.

I can relate to Saucy B’s story on one hundred levels. When she wrote this post and discussed how she was described by family members as “precocious” but school was academically challenging for her, I totally got it.

@SaucyB is currently taking a break from her blog, but I hope she will drop by to moderate comments. Her post speaks to so many people who have children who are struggling with school.

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Hidden Potential

I was late bloomer when it came to academics. I was young for my grade; in fact, by today’s requirements, I wouldn’t have even been allowed to enter school when I did.

But, since I was rather precocious in nature – often described as being four going on forty by my relatives – my mother didn’t hesitate to enter me into kindergarten.

It’s not that I didn’t get good grades; it’s just that those good grades came as the result of a lot hard work, a little bit of sweat, and certainly a few tears.

I was in my comfort zone with reading and language arts. But math. Oh math. There’s a reason that when I entered college I was an English major with a minor in Communication. (Dear Rutgers University, thank you for dropping your quantitative requirement the year I entered your fine institution.)

Anyway, it was in fifth grade that students in my school system could be chosen to participate in a Gifted and Talented program that met on Saturday mornings called C.A.T. (I haven’t the slightest idea what that stands for anymore.)

While I recall being slightly disappointed that I didn’t get to participate in fifth grade, I wasn’t completely surprised either. I was doing well, but I certainly wasn’t pulling down straight A’s.

Things changed when I entered sixth grade and was in the class of the school’s only male teacher at the time, Mr. Adubato. This teacher really tried to bring new ideas and other ways of learning to the table. He recognized and encouraged my creative writing in a way that no one else had. And after the first marking period, he got me into the C.A.T. program.

I remember being so proud that as part of the program I got to “publish” my own book of short stories. In reality, my work had just been bound with a nice front and back cover by the school librarian. But, to me, it made me legit.

Today, I see my son, who is also young for his grade, struggling as well. Kindergarten was not an easy transition for him. He received basic skills help and was evaluated this summer by the school’s Child Study Team.

At the beginning of the year, I told his teacher, “There are no rose-colored glasses in this house.” And while I’m very much aware and recognize that my son has challenges, I also know that he is extremely bright and articulate. Collectively, we just have to figure out how to unlock the potential that I know is sitting poised and ready in his little body.

How am I so sure of this? Last weekend I had the privilege of transcribing a story that my son made up to go with a comic book he had drawn. He had numbered the pages, established heroes and villains, and formulated a plot with a distinct beginning, middle and end.

He just couldn’t write it.

Apparently, kids his age are supposed to be able to write some semblance of words based on how they sound. My guy isn’t even close to that yet. So we sat. And I told him the letters to write so that he could bring the story out of his imagination and onto the page.

I strongly suspect that things may get harder for my son before they get easier when it comes to his school work. But I hope he is fortunate enough to have a teacher that recognizes his unique capabilities the way Mr. Adubato recognized mine.

How much do you think a child’s age influences his or her academic performance? And what do you think about “gifted and talented” programs?

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.

• • •

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?

 • • •

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!

Lessons From Mrs. Gurney: Guest Post by Penny Thoyts

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Don't you love Penny's hair?

My guest blogger today is not a blogger at all. She could be though. If she weren’t so busy raising daughters and sewing. Penny Thoyts and I met at another website a few years ago and developed a lovely cyber friendship.

I know what an amazing mind Penny has and when she showed up here, I knew she would have an amazing story to share. Penny was born and raised In Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire – one of the most affluent towns in the United Kingdom.

Penny’s parents were devout Christians, and she was raised a Christian, too. At age 16, Penny started to rebel; she abandoned her education and got into all sorts of trouble. Amazingly, Penny found her way back to academia and earned advanced degrees in Biology with Analytical Chemistry. While studying for her PhD, Penny met her husband. Together, they have two daughters, aged 12 and 9. Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her 30’s, Penny now works as a Youth Worker. At 41 years old, she is not finished rebelling

• • •

Lessons From Mrs. Gurney

Mrs. Gurney was a family friend, sort of. She attended the same church as my parents, and they knew her well. A little too well perhaps. She was a large woman, very overweight (in a time when being overweight was uncommon); she was opinionated and held views that were not always consistent with my parents’ views. She attended church meetings and made everyone very well aware of what she thought about whatever was on the agenda – and a few things that weren’t on the agenda no doubt. A woman with a domineering personality, Mrs. Gurney was a little bit scary. She was also quite loud. When she read the lesson in church, the whole town heard it. And she read the lesson like only a primary school teacher could. God, (we will assume for these purposes that He exists and that He was in church while Mrs. Gurney read the lesson) probably took great care not to fidget too much whilst Mrs. Gurney was reading the Bible lest He be reprimanded.

When my mother learned Mrs. Gurney was to be my teacher when I was eight years old, she was a little concerned. She needn’t have been. Kath was a wonderful teacher. She was very strict and, to tell the truth, I was a desperately shy, withdrawn, child who was frequently picked on. No one picked on me in Mrs. Gurney’s class. No one would have dared bully anyone in front of Mrs. Gurney. It wasn’t that she was especially caring or particularly alert to the terrible traumas that could result from bullying, it was just that bullying was not on the schedule and if it wasn’t on the schedule, she had no truck with it. I was safe in class with Mrs. Gurney. It’s hard to explain what a relief it was to enter that classroom.

Mrs. Gurney was big on the three R’s. It was Mrs. Gurney who taught me the difference between “two” “to” and “too”. I still remember the carefully hand-drawn posters on the wall. The first had a picture of two sweeties (candies) that said: “two sweets”. The second had a picture of a jar of sweets, the jar overflowing. The words under the picture read “too many sweets”. The third hand-drawn picture was of a signpost, the sign read “to the zoo”. The posters were at the front of the class. I saw them everyday for a year. If your eyes wandered from your books, they would inevitably wander onto her posters. She had another set of posters illustrating the words “there” “they’re” and “their”.

Mrs. Gurney had no favourites, nor did she appear to dislike anyone. She sat at an old-fashioned oak desk and had a drawer full of red pens. If you spelled a word wrong, you wrote it out ten times at the bottom of your work. If you spelled twenty words wrong, you wrote all twenty words out ten times. It was not negotiable. An error in a sentence, a misplaced quotation mark and the sentence had to be written out again in your exercise book. She also had silver and gold stars in her drawer. They were not given out willy-nilly. You earned your gold stars and they were highly prized.

The classroom was arranged in a rather Victorian style. We sat at double desks and a boy was always seated next to a girl (to stop chatter). The brightest children sat at the front. We had exams twice a year in all subjects the results of which determined your position in the class – literally. The brightest (or most academically successful) boy sat next to the brightest girl – and so on round the class – until you got to the back row “thickies”. The children at the back of the class were not ridiculed or humiliated for being at the back however: that was just how things were. Ridiculing people wasn’t on the schedule.

Even if you were sat at the back, you couldn’t expect to hide away and learn nothing. Mrs. Gurney was one of those frightening quick fire teachers. Daydream for more than a few seconds and you would hear her bellow: “James Smith! What is 7 x 9?” or “Jennifer Jones! What is two thousand and twelve in Roman numerals?!”

What is more she would wait in silence for several minutes until you got the answer or at least made a good attempt at answering. If you didn’t get the answer right, you could guarantee there would be more questions headed your way later in the day. It was terrifying, but by George it worked.

She sounds awful, but she wasn’t. She was firm and fair. She treated everyone the same and she expected everyone to succeed. Do a good piece of work and you would see “good”, “very good”, or “excellent work” written in red pen. If you were really lucky she would write a few words of praise. She never gushed, but she did notice.

To me, Mrs. Gurney is everything a primary school teacher should be. She was a little frightening, but we learned. And surely that is the point. She didn’t really teach me to enjoy learning (although I can’t recall ever being bored or disinterested in her lessons), but she did teach me that hard work gets results. Doing well is satisfying. Even now, I gloat a little that I don’t confuse “to”, “two”, and “too” like so many others. I am privileged to be able to gloat. I can only be inwardly snobby because she taught me so well.  All those poems I had to learn by rote, all the poems I had to write myself, the mental arithmetic, history, fractions, technical drawing, the copperplate handwriting, science, geography (well, maybe not geography) – it wasn’t always easy. It was challenging, but Mrs. Gurney expected us to succeed and we wouldn’t dare do otherwise.

Mrs. Gurney didn’t teach me to love learning, that came later. She taught me how to learn. She taught me how to think, how to concentrate, how to listen, how to focus, how and when to ask questions and she taught me to persevere. Try, try and try again. If you don’t persevere, you risk failing and failure is not on the schedule. Mrs. Gurney gave me the tools with which to learn and without those tools no one can enjoy learning. Without those tools, learning is like climbing Mount Everest with no food and no oxygen whilst dressed in jeans and a sweater.

I still see Mrs. Gurney from time to time. She is elderly now, and her eyesight is failing. She is still opinionated. She was a devoted wife and, as far as I am aware, her two children love her and visit regularly. She still attends the same church as my mother. Nowadays I call her Kath (most of the time).

Some years ago I went to the church to attend a party in the hall. I was in the kitchen counting out cups and saucers for the tea when Kath came in and started bossing people around. She saw me counting cups and saucers out loud and said briskly, “Have you counted them right? You need 40 for tea and eight for coffee!” I turned to her with a grin and said, “Yes, you taught me to count proper; there are five rows of eight”. Satisfied that I was up to the job of counting out cups and saucers, she went on to ask what I was doing with my life. I told her that I had just completed my PhD. Her face lit up and she said, “One of my children! A doctor!”

I don’t think I have ever been so proud.

What teacher would you like to run into now that you are an adult? What would you want to say to this person? And what would you wish this person could say to you?

 • • •

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!

 

The Good, the Bad & the Naughty: Guest Post by Paul Waters

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Ain't he a cutie?

My guest blogger today is Paul Waters, and he is one of the very first people I met when I landed in the blogosphere. Paul is originally from Belfast, but this guy has slept around! I mean, he’s lived in England, Romania, Wales, the United States, Germany, Poland, South Africa, and both ends of Ireland. 

For his teacher memory, Paul went off-roading. Instead of writing about just one teacher, he wrote about a few: one good, one bad, and one naughty. Half the fun is in figuring out which is who. 

Check out Paul’s fantastic blog HERE. And follow him at Twitter at @VillageIP. He’s quite brilliant.

 • • •

The Good, the Bad and the Naughty

1. Mr. T. taught me in Primary 4, so I was eight or nine years old. That age when you open your mouth and embarrassing things come out. Like the time I absent-mindedly addressed him as Mummy. The shame.

Mr. T. blamed me for losing the blackboard duster. But it wasn’t my fault.

Honest.

This is what happened.

Mr. T had a sweet tooth!

Mr. T. used to prowl the classroom sneaking a peek at everyone’s packed lunch. If he saw a shiny chocolate bar wrapper or some cake, he’d pounce and snaffle it. Does that count as bullying? Abuse? Theft? Or was he simply an early adopter of the notion that schoolchildren should only eat healthy food like fruit and vegetables?

I decided he wasn’t getting his thick fingers on my lunch, so when he came snooping, I closed my lunchbox and ducked away. A chase ensued – much to the amusement of the rest of the class. He was big but lumbering. I was nippy and kept out of reach.

In exasperation, he threw the duster at me. It was a habit of his – a way to get the attention of boys who were nodding off.  But he already had my full attention. I didn’t want to get clobbered by the chalky duster with the hard wooden handle – so I ducked.

The duster flew past me and out the first floor window. Down to where a new lady teacher was being shown round by our gruff headmaster.

He wasn’t pleased to be clonked on the shoulder by a flying wooden duster.

Apparently it was all my fault. For ducking.

• • •

2. Mr G. had a white sports car. It was very unusual and very low slung for Belfast. Very daring, in fact, because with all the ramps around the city (at army and police checkpoints) he risked having the chassis ripped off any time he went for a drive. I imagine he drove gingerly rather than speedily.

Cool car, right?

Mr G. looked a real character – long hair, flared trousers, colourful jacket. He wasn’t podgy like most male teachers either. There was definitely something about him. He was eye-catching. He wore a long Afghan coat. His appearance, and the rumours about him, hinted at after-school involvement in the music scene and clubs.

He was a living embodiment of the alternative possibilities to keeping your head down and choosing the safe route.

• • •

3. Mr. W. was a foreigner, teaching his native language to eager students. It was that all too rare scenario where every pupil paid attention all of the time.

One pupil prided himself on having read more in the language than the rest and considered himself to be a cut above. In fact, he wanted to be a teacher himself. With that aspiration in mind, he was not slow to correct Mr. W. when he felt the need. This led to some interesting exchanges.

Keep in mind that the student in question had never been to a country where the language being taught was spoken. Nor had he previously met a native speaker.

Nevertheless, he didn’t let that stop him from displaying his “superior” knowledge and forcefully disagreeing with Mr. W. at every opportunity.

In recognition of this pupil’s commanding performance, Mr. W decided to “reward” him with a long list of “advanced vocabulary” to learn – colloquial similes.

Naturally, the outstanding student was delighted to be singled out in this way and enthusiastically learned it all – the better to regale the rest of us with his knowledge.

Now, that is just crew-el!

You may meet this student some day. You’ll know it when you hear him repeat the phrase: “as round as a Spaniard.” Or maybe: “as happy as a cupboard.”

Yes. I’m sorry to say that Mr. W. had wreaked vengeance by creating a completely fake list.

So which is which? Who’s the good one? Who’s the bad one? And who’s the naughty one?

• • •

The good one is Mr T. When he wasn’t throwing dusters, whacking boys with rulers or stealing their lunches, he was inspiring, charismatic and enthusiastic.

The bad one is Mr. G. He cared a lot about cutting a dash, but hardly at all about the children in his class. They stewed and stagnated while he dreamed. Their dreams were put on hold.

Which means the naughty one was Mr. W. He abused his position to mislead a student whose only offence was being seriously annoying and outrageously arrogant. (Okay, two offences then.) On the other hand, the precocious student of English as a foreign language was basing his “expertise” solely on Polish and Russian textbooks. And creating and giving to him the list of fake similes was tremendous fun.

Hee hee.

And I haven’t done it again since I left my teaching post in Poland.

Still laugh about it though.

Which of your teachers were real characters? Did any of them play tricks on you? Throw something at you? Who showed you the good, the bad and the naughty?

 • • •

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!