My Mother, in her English Classroom
My mother, Marjorie Hart, was an excellent teacher. She got her B.A. and her credential to teach English in California when I was in high school. She started her first teaching job in Artesia with only an emergency credential, when I was in college. Her first year was very hard on her physically and emotionally, since she still had one school age child at home and she was still having to take classes at night. She almost didn’t make it.
She kept at it, though, and finally got tenure. She finally became head of the English department and trained her share of student teachers. She also taught English as a Second Language at the high school and, for a semester, at the adult school as well. She loved teaching the adults, until the district forced an unimaginative curriculum which her students hated on all adult ESL classes. So she did not continue the adult class when the semester ended. At various times in her teaching career she was the advisor for the school yearbook and the the school newspaper.
Beside me I have my Mom’s scrapbook. It’s devoted to pictures students gave her or sent her after they left her class. There are wedding pictures, Valentines, birthday, thank you, and Christmas cards. Here is a sampling of messages on the backs of the pictures and in the cards. The student year book for 1969 is full of similar messages.
Mrs. Hart, from one of your most grateful students (I actually know a little about grammar.)
Mrs. Hart / One of the finest teachers I’ve ever known. I hope that the rest of your life is as beautiful as you’ve made mine. I love you always. / Ed-in-chief, Class of 76
Mrs. Hart, / Words can’t express my gratitude to you. I want to thank you for all the help you’ve given me. Your (sic) my favorite teacher and I’ll always remember you. With love, T.D., -76-
My mom did not teach all college prep classes. She taught a lot of the students who would probably never go to college. Many had trouble speaking English. Many had problems at home and confided in my mom. She would tell me about how hard it was for some to finish homework when they had to care for siblings at home and fix the meals while their parents worked. I know my mom cared about her students. If they weren’t learning, she kept trying to find new ways to help them.
Contrast that with this high school teacher in Pennsylvania who was just fired for blogging that her students were “rat-like”, “frightfully dim”, “lazy whiners”, and suggested that their future employment was with the local trash company. She considered it all their fault if they didn’t learn.
I have had some English students who did not want to learn anything and did not want to be in school. Many of them had bad attitudes and were in trouble with the law. But I tried to show them the respect due to every human being. Although I was able to help and reach some of them, I failed with some others. I was young and inexperienced and came to the conclusion that teaching in public school was not the right job for me. I only knew how to reach the college prep students. I simply wasn’t prepared enough to give the unmotivated students the inspiration they needed to succeed.
Steven David Horwich, who introduced the Pennsylvania teacher I mentioned above, in his blog, spends the remainder of his blog describing the job of a teacher. If you are planning to go into a classroom to teach this fall for the first or the twenty-first time, you might want to read this for inspiration. These are just a few of the words Horwich shares:
It is the teacher’s job to provide the environment wherein a student can experience and grasp information, develop ideas and ambitions, experiment, try, fail, try again and finally succeed. We will need our young people’s ideas and ambitions if we are to progress in any direction as a culture and a people. A teacher who berates a student for failure, who makes an issue of it, is a teacher helping to build human beings who will refuse to try, refuse to reach, will not experiment, try again or ever succeed. The price for trying and failing will be seen as simply too draconian and painful, the lesson students actually learn from teachers who cannot control their critical instincts.
It is a teacher’s job to find any and every way to open up the world and its possibilities to a child. And when that child smiles and reaches for a particular idea, it becomes the teacher’s job to fan that flame of interest into a bonfire with additional experiences and ideas along the same line. This is how a teacher helps to build the next great artists, athletes, business and political leaders.
My mom was that kind of teacher. What kind of teacher will you be this year?