How My Teachers Taught Me to Teach

When I was student teaching, my supervisor said something that startled me.

“What forms how you work with students—more than the education courses you’ve taken and more than your student teaching—are the classrooms of your childhood.

And then I started thinking. Ever since first grade, I had watched teachers. I’ll do that when I teach, I’d tell myself. I’ll bring out the mettle in students like Miss Bordeaux, and show I care, like Mr. Pollard. I’ll set water on fire, like Mr. Jenkins and scatter mind puzzles around the edges of the room like Mrs. Parsons. I’ll start class with math riddles, like Mr. Parker, and give students words to live by, like Mr. Wooten. I want to teach like Mr. Deaton so that when the bell rings, students can’t believe class is already over.

But other times I’d think, when I’m a teacher, I won’t do that. Mrs. Russ, in third grade, dismissed each student every day one of two ways: with a swat (if we were bad) or a piece of candy (if we were good). Though I couldn’t articulate my thoughts about this, I could tell it was wrong. And as a teacher, I have tried to be different from Mrs. Russ—to recognize the complexity of student behavior.

This watching of teachers continued in college. One morning, headed for an exam, I stopped in confusion in the driveway. Our car was missing, stolen, we discovered. So I took a city bus to class, arriving ten minutes late.

“Yeah, sure!” said Dr. Cline, and refused to let me start the exam.

And with those words, Dr. Cline set in me a proclivity toward believing students.

“You have an educational biography,” my student teaching supervisor had told me. “Unlike most professionals, you’ve already spent well over a decade in the setting of your new work.”

So take advantage of this, he had urged me. Think about the teachers you admired and the teachers who frustrated you. Learn from them.

Now that I’m old and retired, some of my former students are teaching. I hope some of them sometimes say, I’ll do what Mrs. Swartz did. And I’m sure they also think, well, I sure won’t do it that way!

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