As I begin the 23rd year of my teaching career, I can’t help but reminisce about all of the teachers who influenced me. I hope I have the same positive impact on my students. Nevertheless, I know there are leadership lessons all of us can learn from these teachers.
It has been almost half a century since I began school, so my memories may be distorted. I do know that I respected (or feared) my first and second grade teachers. Strangely, they both retired the year after I was in their class. Luckily, my third grade teacher was a novice. She gave me confidence because she let me grade papers and take the big sack with all of the reels of film to the office. (Back then, we had movie projectors.) I would have rescued a dangling participle for Mrs. Duda; she was that awesome.
For some reason (maybe puberty), I do not remember many of my junior high teachers. I remember the principal, Mr. Lewis, because on open house night he saw my dad and said, “Hi, Red!” I did not even know my dad had a nickname. Turns out that they grew up on the same street. I felt doomed. How could I be cool if my dad knew the principal?
I do remember Mr. Collins, my eighth grade English teacher. He was dynamic, enthusiastic, and energetic. Class was fun. So much fun, that I took the chance to read a part in a play during class. I read it like Mr. Tudball (Tim Conway on the Carol Burnett Show). Every night I would practice my accent. Mr. Collins rewarded me with extra credit points. And, I realized I could entertain the class. Not that I can ever be as funny as Tim Conway.
High school brought many more influences. My first period class was ninth grade Honors English. Ms. Kindleberger was the teacher who never smiled, loathed freshmen, and made us read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The first day, I did not have a desk, so I had to stand and use the radiator as my desk. Yes, the 1921 building used hot water radiators to heat the rooms. Ms. K.’s influence made me realize that teachers can smile and be kind. School should be fun. My sophomore year was the first inclination that I might be able to teach. My teacher was absent for a month, and the sub was having trouble with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. So, for the first ten minutes of class, I would explain last night’s reading to him, then he would explain it to the class. My senior year I learned empathy. My English teacher did not want to accept my excuse for turning in my research essay one day late. The only grandparent I really knew, my grandmother, died. Needless to say I switched classes at the semester. My new teacher let me read to the class, lead discussion, and start to become the teacher I now am.
Every person we meet is an influence on us. In some way every teacher has helped shape my persona. For this, I am grateful. Now, what influence will I have this year? What influence will you have?