Monday, January 24, 2011

My Inspirations

By the end of first grade I had been diagnosed with severe asthma and animal allergies.  I missed almost one quarter of each of my first two years of school.  So when Mrs. Leland gave the class permission slips for the field trip to the Boston Zoo I knew there was no need for me to get it signed; I wouldn’t be going.  But Mrs. Leland followed-up with my mother and discovered my health problems.  She felt bad and vowed to make it up to me.  The following summer Mrs. Leland loaded me in a car with her entire family and took us all to Revere Beach and the Peabody Museum.  She also happened to be a Winnie the Pooh fan, a love she passed on to me.  

Every kid should be so fortunate to have at least one teacher in their life so compassionate and selfless.  I was and continue to be blessed with many, each of whom are a portion of my foundation.  Whether it be the third grade teacher who helped me tackle school-phobia or the high school literature teacher whose final exam simply asked us to write about all we had learned in his class – they all helped me succeed.  They each helped me discover my place in the world and my ability to play a part in it.  If someday I can be half as good as these teachers were, I will have a very successful career.

In junior high my family lived overseas, and I attended the small American private school there.  Most of my teachers were amazing, but they were led by one unique man, the Head Master, Dr. Barteau, who terrified everyone.  He was a throw-back to the days of Mr. Chips.  Educated at Harvard, he knew something about high expectations.  The school was truly “his” school and ran according to his vision.  When displeased, one eyebrow would travel to the extreme upper reaches of his forehead.  Under those scary, watchful eyes we would succeed in challenging coursework.  We would compete athletically (and most often lose) with honor.  We would go on to the world’s best universities.  But he trusted us.  In fact, he gave a small group of us keys to the building so we could construct a spook-house for the school carnival overnight – with no supervision.  What principal instills such respect and gives such trust today?

I was lucky again in high school with at least half a dozen great teachers, but one stands out, literally and figuratively.  Ms. Tenholder was about 100 years old and 10 feet tall – or so it seemed.  She greeted every student at the door each day, saying, “Good morning, young scholar.”  A strange bird she was.  But she, above all others, got me ready for college.  There was a particular way things were to be done, and nothing less would suffice.  We could do it over and over, but the work was not done until it was correct.  She used art, poetry and literature to teach history.  We read Tolstoy, studied Caravaggio and discovered Taosim in Chinese poetry.  For once I began to understand the bigger picture.  I began to love the romance of learning.  I began to grapple with my place in the world.  She’s also the first person to tell me I had a gift for teaching others. 

Some of the most influential teachers in my life I have the pleasure to call colleagues.  At another school I coached with Coach Davis, whose ability to pull the best out of kids and help them see their potential was awe inspiring.  Through goal-setting and constant encouragement, kids succeed with Davis.  And if I can ever approach the skills and dedication of Ms. Grupe I shall be honored and probably exhausted.  She, more than any teacher I know, truly believes that every kid can and will learn in her classroom.

Teaching is phenomenally difficult and challenging.  None of us do it well without role models, either in our youth or on the job.  I can only hope that I do honor to Mrs. Leland’s compassion, Dr. Barteau’s expectations, Ms. Tenholder’s love for life and learning, Coach Davis’ fundamental belief in kids’ greatness, and Ms. Grupe’s commitment.  I am eternally grateful for having so many amazing teachers in my life.  Isaac Newton said he’d stood on the shoulders of giants.  While I am no Newton, these teachers and others have the giants’ shoulders I stand on.

1 comment:

Teacher Andre Netto said...

hahahahahahaha. I don't remember that much about Dr. Barteau! I remember him being serious and all, but not the dictator you pictured. He was always smiling and friendly when I was around. Maybe I had different "eyes" then. But I must say I had wonderful teachers in Luxembourg. Mr. Page, Mr. Wright, Ronald Tuffel... The list is endless. In High School, back in Brazil, I was also lucky.
I guess I became a teacher because of them. I only hope I can do the same for my students as these teachers did for me. It just got me thinking about that movie, "The Emperor's Club." LOL!