Monday, May 2, 2016

Take Time for Teacher Appreciation

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For years I made it a practice to write a note to one teacher who really influenced me as a student or a teacher, or both. This year I am reflecting on three extra special teachers - my most influential college professors - because I am headed back to Hiram College for my twenty-fifth class reunion in June.

The first of the three was my chemistry advisor, John Andrews. Thirty seconds after I met him, I wanted to be his advisee. He loved chemistry, he had a great sense of humor, and he was such a character. His classes were packed with information, but were also so entertaining! At the end of my sophomore year, I had had it with Organic Chemistry; I decided to change majors. I lined up my new English department advisor and went to him for his signature, the seal on the deal. He convinced me to give it one more quarter, take the next class for majors - one that he taught - and so I am a chemistry teacher.

The second of the three was a Communications professor, Linda Rea. Like John, she was a great storyteller, constantly applying her lessons to everyday situations. She modeled the communications techniques she taught all the time, practiced what she preached. For a while, I toyed with a Communications minor and I took several classes with Dr. Rea. I loved talking with her, though, about anything. I could linger in her office for hours. She delivered a speech at my Omicron Delta Kappa induction that is, still today, one of the five best I have ever heard and the inspiration for this blog. I often think about what is my lever, where do I stand?

The final member of the group was my Education advisor, Kathy Feather. She was the most talented teacher I have ever seen in action. Ask almost anyone who teaches about teacher preparation and they will tell you that there education classes were a joke. I say almost anyone because those of us who learned from Kathy would only describe her classes as carefully planned, expertly taught. She had this incredible sense of calm, an infectious laugh and was overflowing with wisdom. Twenty-five years after my methods class, I still have my culminating project on which she wrote, "I wish you had been my chemistry teacher." Best. Compliment. Ever.

If you're reading this, you may not have known these three amazing educators, but I bet you have a list like this of your own. And if we compare the things that made the teachers great, I think we'd come up with some similarities. What they all had in common is what great teachers everywhere share:

  • Content experts - every minute you spend with them, you know you know more.
  • Passion for the subject - listen to them talk about their content and you can't help but be mesmerized by how much they love it.
  • Humorous delivery - sometimes it's the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down; other times it's just a reminder that we don't have to be so serious all the time.
  • Down-to-earthiness - talk to students like they are your equals and they will meet you at your level.

Kathy died several years ago, but John and Linda died just this past year. It's hard to believe that people who were so instrumental in my teacher training can't be there to celebrate with the Class of '91. I had written to each of them over the years to express my thanks and let them know how important they had been to me, how I strive for those same qualities in my classroom every day.  Hiram created an essay contest for alumni weekend about what makes the college so special. For me, these three would have been near the top of the list. Maybe I should have entered.

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