Friday, January 15, 2010

Making a difference

Here’s my contribution towards Lori’s latest writer’s challenge. The subject matter this time around is;

Teachers Who’ve Made a Difference

I imagine that when a person decides to become a school teacher it’s a conscious choice, a vocation even, certainly not a career decision made lightly. We all know the difference that a good or bad teacher can make to an impressionable mind and I like to think that even the worst teacher started out with the best of intentions.

Saying that, my very first teacher in New Zealand was a shocker. I get that my five and a half year old brain might not be the most reliable source of information but the memories have stuck with me now for nearly 40 years and that must attest to some veracity.  Her name was Sister I* and she was 70 if she was a day. She got her kicks having the whole class make fun of my Irish accent. I recall being made to stand up on my desk and say the alphabet over and over and getting a whack with a ruler whenever a hint of accent crept in to my pronunciation. I didn’t tell my parents until many years later why my accent disappeared so quickly when we came back to NZ.

I was a good student as a child. I worked hard, desperate for the validation that good grades brought. I was lucky too I guess that I was an all rounder as a kid; I was athletic – good at almost any sport I tried – and I found school work unproblematic on the whole. That combination ensured primary and intermediate school was a relatively easy ride – lots of friends and mostly indulgent teachers. I had lots of male teachers in those formative years and I still believe that generally speaking men make the best teachers – less structured, more going with the flow. No offence intended to any female teachers who might be reading.

My favourite teacher from that period was the wonderful Mr A. By the time I knew him he was an old man and a widower. He was a fabulous teacher; he was unhurried; patient and kind and for the first time I truly understood that I was entitled to my own opinion. He made us laugh every single day but taught us to challenge what we read and heard; it was my first exposure to critical thinking.

Then I went to high school and everything changed.

To be fair, it wasn’t the fault of my teachers that things started to go wrong. In fact Mr B tried very hard to keep me engaged in the learning process but by the time I hit 15, I was failing his class (maths) and barely passing anything else. I then started skipping class until I was missing most lessons every day.

Somehow though I continued to scrape through with barely acceptable grades until my senior year at school when I was unexpectedly captivated by climatology and the hydrological cycle as shared by Ms M in geography class. She inspired me and suddenly I was attending all my classes again and actually rediscovering the joy of learning. She was an older woman who appreciated that at our age we had a choice about whether we went to school each day or not. She infused every class with visual aids to help communicate the subject. She’d travelled widely and had collected a vast library of photographs to help illustrate her point and she was all for laughter and fun and games in her classroom. Above all others, Ms M was the teacher who re-energised me with the wonder of learning. I’m eternally grateful as to this day I have never lost that joy.

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.


  1. I hope that every teacher realizes what a difference they can make in a child's life. If not for Ms M, who knows where you might be? And it sounds as if she came into your life at precisely the right time. Loved this post! Kathy (I understand totally about the whole accent thing - moved to Indiana from Mississippi and got sent to the principal for being a wiseacre - because I said yes ma'm. The teacher actually thought I was being a smart a**!)

  2. *Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

    So what you are saying is your name really isn't Lou?
    You really got off to a rough start. My mother lived in a church basement for a time and she went to the school there. She said the nuns were brutal. Corporal punishment was the norm.
    You were really cutting it close in the end. Like Kathy said above, it was the right time for you.
    When you say it isn't a career chosen lightly it actually was here for a while. It would seem that it was the cheapest degree they could get and after putting in their 3 years or whatever it was they either had to continue on down another path or use their BA for education. Those that chose not to go on were qualified to teach. I believe the degree programs have changed somewhat.

  3. That is a nice recollection. As i sit and try to remember the teachers that inspired me, I can only come up with one. But I do have that. Nice post.

  4. I thought the fact that you didn't lay the blame of things going wrong at the feet of your teachers, was a very insightful comment. We are the masters of our destinies and you were given the right mentor at the time you needed to make the change. Good for you that you grabbed hold and utilized the knowledge offered in such a creative way.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hey, sweetie!

    I'm really disturbed by your little girl 5-yo memory of that 70-yo teacher. What a horrible experience that must have been! My heart aches for that little girl-Lou!

    BAD teacher....very, very BAD. I wonder how many other children she's traumatized.

  6. Lou what was with the NZ teachers. My first experience was grade 9 English -- he would fling chalk and even the brushes right at us. Then my hubby told me stories similar to yours.

    Thank goodness for your Mrs M - she sounds a lot like my "best" teacher -- I hope she knows what a difference she made in your life. Adored reading this - as always you are such a treasure.

  7. You're right about that Kathy, was a crucial time of my life. That's horrible that your manners were perceived as being cheeky - a bit clueless of the teacher really.

    Thanks Deb

    Actually Lori I should have taken that out. I started using made up names and ended up just abbreviating instead so the asterixs were no longer required oops. Crazy that teaching was a 'fall back' career when it's so very important, glad it's not like that anymore.

  8. Only one Punch? I guess I was lucky then having a couple of really inspirational ones.

    Thanks hummer - welcome to The Quiet Life by the way. Drop by anytime.

    Lol Kathryn - she was a wizened horrible frustrated old bag. Dead by now I assume though she might be 100 and still making peoples lives a misery.

    Appreciate that Joanne, I'll pop over to your site now and see if you've posted about this too.

  9. Wonderful. You speak first person of a bad situation turned around good quickly. How proud she must have been of you turning your schooling around in a positive manner. Looking back, i'm sure it's not hard to see how it 'could've' gone for you had you not locked back into the learning. Great story. Tammy

  10. Neat idea for a challenge, and lucky you for having had some good experience, good teachers. Unfortunately some folks don't even get that.

  11. I had a teacher like your first grade one only mine was in 6th, supposed to be my dads friend, I think he secretly hated my dad and was a sadist and I kid not.
    I HAD to follow you when I saw your book list and saw your book name was scout, it was just fate!! LOL

  12. Thanks Tammy and welcome to The Quiet Life, I hope to see you again soon.

    I know Intelli, some people have horror stories. I enjoy contributing to Lori's challenges, I think it's a great idea.

    TC that teacher sounds like a very sad person. Glad you could join us here, come back soon y'hear?

  13. Great writing.
    Growing up literary worlds apart I still recognize so much. I wonder if teachers really know what impact they have on their kids. For better and for worse.
    Sometimes the views we have can be so different though.

    I remember having an elderly male teacher, everyone was so damn scared about his discipline... like we were meeting Hitler or so. And his classes were really strict... but I loved it! He had things in order, no fuss, no nothing. It was just - class!!

    Not saying harsh discipline is the thing, but he had a good balance. I guess I needed it.



Make my day and leave a comment. C'mon you can do it.