Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Why Teaching Matters: A Reflection on Where My Journey Started

Today I want to talk, briefly, about why teachers matter. Or, more specifically, about how two teachers influenced me as a person and in my choice of career. I’ve been thinking about these two people for some time now and thought, “Hey, why not write a blog post about them.”

Both of these teachers taught English in coinciding classes at my high school. They both retired the year after I graduated.

The first one I would like to address is “Mr. G.”

Mr. G was my English teacher my sophomore year of high school. He was a teacher liked by many; such could be seen by the occasional mid-class drop-in by teenaged boys—his past students—who he would then chase out of his room with a yard stick in a great show for the rest of us. I learn a lot about grammar in his class.

Yet, my most vivid memory of Mr. G is a day when we were copying something—I don’t recall what—off of a projector screen. My pencil had dulled, so I walked up to the front of the class to sharpen it. En route, I accidentally tripped over the projector cord and unplugged it. Yes, a little embarrassing to trip in front of your entire class, but ultimately no harm done.

However, after I tripped and before I could plug the machine back in, Mr. G stood up from his desk and started shouting at me. Needless to say I was shocked. Cue deer in the headlights. He bellowed several things at me, but the part I remember verbatim is this: “You don’t think, Charlie! I wish you would think, but you don’t.”

This was not the only incident where Mr. G “bumped heads" with me, but it was certainly the most memorable. When he was finished, I plugged in the projector, returned to my desk with a dull pencil, and spent the rest of the class trying not to cry.

Now, let me tell you about “Ms. B.”

Ms. B was a creative soul. She had cardboard cutouts of The Lord of the Rings characters lining the walls of her classroom. She taught a wide variety of things English, including Lit & Film and Creative Writing, the latter of which I took from her twice. She also ran the high school’s literary magazine.

Ms. B was not my “friend.” She wasn’t a “one-of-the-guys” teacher, but she was a good teacher. Ms. B is the one who first taught me how to write. She taught me how to expand my imagination and encouraged my creativity. She gave me good feedback on my work: compliments and criticism alike. I was not the best writer in her class by far, mind you. I was about average.

This teacher never said anything extraordinary to me. She never offered an inspirational quote that I still heed to this day or did anything that fundamentally changed the course of my life. But Ms. B had an overall impact on me, creating a current for which the boat into my current career would float.

This is why teaching matters.

I could heed the words and behaviors of Mr. G and believe that, since he’s my teacher, since he’s the one in charge, he must be right. I must not know how to use my brain. I must not know how to think. I must dumber than my male counterparts, to whom he always showed far more respect than me.

Fortunately, I grew in the nourishment of Ms. B, who was willing to believe in me as much as I believed in myself. Who was willing to listen to me and help me grow, who celebrated my creative writing scholarship to BYU alongside me in the long hours I spent in her classroom after the school day had ended. I even had the fortune of running into her in the parking lot of Bed Bath & Beyond a couple months ago. When I recognized her, I jumped out of my friend’s car and ran to her driver’s side door, gushing at her about how much her classes meant to me and all the successes I’ve been able to achieve because of the path she helped me find. It was a good day for me and, I hope, a good day for her.

If I ever run into Mr. G, I hope I can tell him about all the successes I’ve been able to achieve in spite of what he thought of me.

Teachers matter. What they say and do matters. It’s been over ten years since I’ve had any influence from either of these people, but I still think about them often. I hate to admit it, but even today those angry words from Mr. G echo in the back of my mind. However, I’m happy to say that I know, 100%, that they’re wrong, and that is thanks to good, uplifting teachers. Teachers like Ms. B.

So thank you, again, Ms. Beck, for all you did for me.