April 6, 2006

The wit and wisdom of teachers

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:42 pm by mrsmauck

The things that I actually remember teachers saying from when I was in school mostly have nothing to do with literature or composition. I remember those little bits of wisdom and practical advice that I actually made a part of my life. Here’s some of those bits I remember or have heard about from others:

  • “You haven’t had a drink of anything for eight hours. Don’t you think the first thing you do when you wake up is drink a glass of water? Hydrate yourself?” My Gateway teacher at OU. This made such logical sense to me that I actually started drinking a glass of water every morning, and still do.
  • Mrs. Hamilton had us look up pronunciations of words in the dictionary as some sort of weird test, I think. After we’d done it, she asked who looked at the definition of the word while they were there. Not even I, probably the biggest fan of learning in that class, looked at the definition! She said, in a tone of scolding and disappointment, “You had a chance to learn and didn’t take it? What a shame.” I honestly remember feeling ashamed of myself! Why didn’t I just glance over at the meaning of that word? I didn’t know the meaning! Wasn’t I curious?
  • Brittany, our student worker, just told me something a government teacher in high school had told her class. He advised them to spend an hour alone each day, reading something for personal growth and/or information (not a beauty magazine or a romance novel), or writing, or just thinking. He said he doesn’t see how you wouldn’t go crazy if you didn’t do this everyday.
  • One day, I missed Fiction class, but the next week, the whole class was still reeling from what our teacher Kamau had said in response to one student’s submission the previous week. They explained it to me, and it put genuine fear in me about my writing. He had tossed her short story onto the table in disgust and told the class you can’t copy what you see on television and in movies and make it into a good story. You have to be original. Apparently, her story was a rewriting of Memento.
  • “Everyone is a reader; some people just haven’t found the right book yet.” Dr. Elbert Hill, Children’s Lit at SOSU.

Basically, the kids won’t remember a single thing I say. I know I don’t remember very much of what even my favorite teachers actually said. I think I carry their messages inside me though, and live them out. Because of past teachers’ messages, I have confidence in my writing, curiosity about author’s message and theme, a critical eye for structure and pacing (my weaknesses), trust in my own ideas and creativity.

You might not remember what the teacher said, but you just might remember the experiences you had in that class—learning something about yourself or about the world. That Eureka moment, when you understand that color is important in literature, that it can tell you something. That the way you interact with text, and the way you understand text in relation to other things, is important, and should be noted and discussed. That Greek myth has influenced so much of our literature (I see hubris everywhere!). That reading a postmodern novel can be like unraveling a mystery. You have to pay attention! That when you’re really writing, your characters can surprise you; they can take you in directions you weren’t expecting.

So what’s my message? What do I believe so strongly that it will naturally come out in my teaching from time to time, little gems of wisdom that the kids hang on to.

  • “I can’t” is an excuse. You are capable of just about anything.
  • You don’t have to love everything you read. What do you love to read? What do you love learning about?
  • Being yourself is all you can be. And that’s awesome!
  • Nobody remembers the followers. It’s the leaders, the people who stepped out of the shadows and said “NO!” to something that was wrong, or who did or said something totally different from what everyone else was doing or saying. They didn’t apologize for being different. Talk about the geniuses, the revolutionaries, and the free thinkers who stepped away from the pack and did something amazing that we still study today.
  • Knowledge is the great equalizer. It’s a democracy: free to anyone and power for all. And it’s here, it’s on the Internet, it’s all around! Take your power, your position in the world, by taking in knowledge and becoming educated.

Are those messages totally cliche and cheesy, or do kids need to know those things? I think we have to be conscious of the messages our behavior and teaching communicate, and convey these messages both overtly and subtley.

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