Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Teacher Appreciation Week

My wife cam home from work with several bouquets of flowers. My first thought was that she was making a gesture of affection towards me. I asked if they were for me. She replied they weren't. My heart sank slightly, wondering who was moving in on my spouse.

Then I thought for a second. I asked if they were for my daughter. My wife responded that they were hers. Then she told me that she received them from several of the students at her school.

My wife is a teacher at a parochial head-start program. She's looking to branch into school counseling. Her graduate degree is in psychology, counseling and guidance. She's an internship and two tests away from her license. However, she needs two years as a teacher in order to work that job in the school system. So, she is currently a teacher.

She has been working this current job for about two weeks. It was a huge paradigm shift for her. She was used to counseling and social-working adults. So the flowers came as a surprise to both her and I. The real surprise for her was that they were all "teacher appreciation week" gifts.

The flowers provoked some thought and recollection.

Regular readers may look at past articles and believe I have no respect for teachers. That is far from true.

I taught at the collegiate and post-graduate levels. I taught associate and bachelor level courses to high school graduates that had joined the US Army to become intelligence analysts. One of them had a couple of PhDs and was a history professor at the University of Washington. He was rather impressed with how we accomplished our training in such a short period of time at the level we did.

I also taught graduate level courses to lieutenants, captains and majors. So, I do know a thing of two about creating rubrics, lesson plans, teaching plans, test development, Socratic method, Bloom's Taxonomy and Revised Taxonomy, Critical Thinking, the Adult Learning Model, and several other pedagogies.

I am far from blind to the dedication and effort required to be a teacher.

So, to show my true appreciation for those in the profession, I decided to write a special essay on the teachers who influenced me most. They did so not by just teaching the required material. Each also went that little extra and taught things beyond the curricula. I usually do not do "favorites". However, these few are the cream of the crop.


My father was my primary educator throughout my life. In many ways, he still is. The list of things he taught me is exhaustive. They include baiting a hook and riding a bike. They include painting and woodworking. They include finding my own answers and researching data. They include photography. They include ethics and morals. They include working hard to achieve a goal and the satisfaction of accomplishment.

My father was also a professional educator at one time. 

Mr. Kozul

I cannot name my 4th grade teacher. I can name my 3rd grade teacher only because of the controversy she spread. She had a habit of trying to force her religious views onto her public school students. Most of her students were catholic. She was new-born Christian and a fundamentalist.

I remember Miss Kaplan. But I do not recall if she was Kindergarten or 2nd grade. I just remember she was pretty and very Jewish. She was the "bright shiny" in a mostly Roman Catholic neighborhood.

But I have fond memories of Mr. Kozul. I was an advanced student. In 5th grade, I was placed into 6th grade classes, taught by Mr. Kozul. He made learning fun. He teased students, cutting up and tossing jibes. We quickly figured  out that the more he teased a student, the more impressed with the student he actually was.

Mr. Kozul fostered creativity and self-directed study. That is, if we worked hard and got the required coursework done, we were encouraged to learn something additional, for fun. He even allowed a small group of us to rewrite and perform a version of Romeo and Juliette.

He got me interested in Robert Frost's poetry and Jack London's books about the Alaskan tundra. He also taught me that "The ending is great. I highly suggest you read this book," is not appropriate for a book report. I wrote that for my review of The Ammityville Horror.  I didn't want to spoil the ending, considering I noticed he was just starting the book the day before the reports were due.

Mrs. Ameraal

I was subjected to her torture for two of my four years in High School. I had her for Sophomore year Honors English. Then, being the masochist, I took AP English my senior year. She was the only accredited AP English professor at the school.

I was also subjected to her throughout my junior year. She would walk up to me in the middle of the hallway or, worse, in the middle of a class. She thought I had some writing talent and continually brought me entry forms and requirements for writing contests. I entered most of them. I won a couple of them.

Mrs. Ameraal was a task master. She had high standards and did not waiver on any of them. For AP English, we had a long summer reading list. The second, third, and fourth days of class were all essay exams on those books. She taught the class as though it were a college class. Her intent was to cover four semesters worth of college level composition, creative writing, and literary analysis in one high school year.

She challenged thought. She prodded us to get into the minds of the characters and the authors. We even had to learn some Old English in order to read a couple of works. She wanted us to appreciate the original languages over modern translations.

As much as I teasingly remark about how awful it was to subject myself to her classes, I enjoyed them. They challenged me and kept me actively engaged. To this day, however, I won't openly admit to her that I didn't read Wuthering Heights until years later, yet still managed to ace the exam. 

Ft. Ron DesRosier

Father Ron, the punk rock priest. He wore a studded leather tie and made crude jokes in both French and English. He also surprised a few of my fellow students when he spoke Italian, Latin, German, and Danish. When it came to languages, this guy was smart.

He also was not an ideal priest. He had no problems telling tales of drunken debauchery from his younger days growing up in Paris.

He rode a motorcycle.

He also was  a mentor and a friend. When I needed an ear, he was magically there, listening, and offering sound advice.

Oh, despite his raspy speaking voice, he could sing.

He was also pretty quick to pull practical jokes on other teachers. 

Miss Donna Dumke

Donna was probably the most influential teacher I had. She was my Junior High teacher for several subjects. I had her for history in 7th grade. I had her for math in 8th grade. I had her for lunch in both grades.

Well, lunch was not a "class". However, Donna allowed a few of us to eat lunch with her two days a week in order to watch Doctor Who. The show was on from 10-12 on Sunday nights. During the summer, we could watch it. During the school year, though, we could not always manage to sneak downstairs to watch it.

So, Donna recorded it on her VCR. She would bring the tape in. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays we'd watch the show, or half of it.

She would also help us with homework. Payment for being in the Doctor Who club consisted of doing extra, advanced math homework. This happened both years.

In 8th grade, I had her for lunch the other three days of the week as well. Being advanced, she gathered up five of us and taught us algebra and geometry at the high school levels. We took the classes while munching on whatever we had packed in our brown bags.

Like Mr. Kozul in 6th grade, Donna seemed to enjoy teaching. She enjoyed challenging us then celebrating our successes when we overcame the challenges she hit us with.

She also enjoyed the white chalk marks on our foreheads when she beamed us with an eraser. Going to sleep was sure to get you tagged. But worse was when she'd say the name of the kid sitting in front of you. The next word was usually "duck", just as you'd feel the dusty eraser bop you in the head. It usually meant you made her laugh with some cheesy joke. It was all fine unless you were too thin-skinned and took it personally.

She knew how to treat things seriously that were serious, yet still manage to have fun with it all.

This week, thank the teachers that influenced you. Thank the good teachers that teach your children. Sure, there are the bad eggs out there. But know that most teachers are trying to do a job that is not easy. It's just worth it.