Monday, March 23, 2009

Gratitude for My Teachers

That saying, Those who can, do, those who can't, teach, never made sense to me because teaching is so hard.

Have you ever tried teaching? I have, many a time. Sometimes I'm good, sometimes not so much. I think it's such a complicated art. To be a good teacher requires a whole lot more than mastery of the topic at hand. You can know everything there is to know about something, but without the secret mojo, as a teacher you will be useless.

Teaching is not about passing information on to others, though looked at superficially it might seem that's all there is to it. If it were only a matter of giving or sharing, why wouldn't we all just learn from books? I believe charisma is a big part of good teaching, but charisma without out all the other components is just embarrassing, especially for the students. I think of Gilderoy Lockhart from the Harry Potter series, so in love with himself, but clueless as a teacher. I've had many teachers who loved to talk about themselves. I never learned a thing from them.

There's a way in which studying with really great teachers invokes curiosity and passion in the student, no matter what the subject. I had a biology teacher who actually created in me an interest in dissection. The passion did not last after the class ended, but wow! That was a good teacher! Great teachers make learning feel good. It's an art, it is.

I'm lucky to have had so many truly great teachers, (sprinkled into the mix of mediocre and really bad teachers, of course). I think this is why I am so in love with learning, because of all those amazing teachers. Currently I am learning from our president who is, I believe, a GREAT, patient and generous teacher.

I'll miss learning from Sylvia Sumter's sermon titles. (Her church, just around the corner, is moving to downtown DC at the end of March.) She has provoked me, made me think hard, introduced me to new ways of looking at the world for many years, just by virtue of her talent for naming her sermons. Now that's some teacher, yes? Oh yeah I have never heard her speak, and yet still I've learned so much from her. Sylvia? I see that you are preparing your congregation for the big move. In so doing, you're reminding me of a very important "truth," that letting go is necessary, organic and healthy. Hail and farewell from Capitol Hill, and THANK YOU!


When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?

Water that once could take no human weight-
We were students then-holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

--Robert Bly


Reya Mellicker said...

There's something to the cliche of falling in love with great teachers. I think it's a good thing to get a crush, because crushes get all the pleasure hormones flowing, and that, in turn, helps students fall in love with the subject they're studying.

It can get confusing, unfortunately. If only teachers could hold the line, let their students swoon without thinking it was about them personally. Wouldn't that be something?

Lisa said...

i love to teach but i have needed to enforce a line between friend and teacher- i cant do both with out something failing post tongiht reya is balm to my soul....i am having a teacher crisis within me at this very moment...lisa xx

janis said...

What a lovely post! I have one about teachers that i am working on. Posting later this week.
Because of a cruel worthless teacher, my daughter got inspried to become a teacher. She wanted to make a positive difference for students. She is in her second year of college now. She truely has a gift and I know she had to go through those difficult experiences to understand her path. One day, people will think back with gratitude of her as their 4th grade teacher!

Reya Mellicker said...

Janis, I bet they will! Bravo! I look forward to your post on the subject.

Lisa I think part of being a great teacher is having teacher crises every now and then, just as being truly faithful involves crises of faith. People who never doubt what they're doing really scare me.

Thank you for struggling!

Joanne said...

In the small ways I've taught, co-workers, my children, it seems part of teaching is a leading of sorts, leading the student to an insight, a skill, which they come to on their own, actually, with the teacher's intangible connection of thoughts, questions, prompts, leading them there.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

I'm back on track with my cup of coffee and reading my favorite blogs first think in the morning. Oh yeah!
This is a thoughtful post about teachers. I never quite got that saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." either! I think whoever said that had no clue how difficult it is to teach.
Teaching isn't just regurgitating information to be swallowed up by students, but a way of instilling inquisitiveness and creativeness in them. It is being able to teach to a variety of people who all learn in different ways and being able to identify what students need and what stimulates learning.
Thanks for saying kind words about good teachers. We need more kind words said and more good teachers.

Butternut Squash said...

I love your attitude of gratitude!

Mrs. Mangrum, my African American first grade teacher in 1969 taught our all white class. Every kid in that class learned so much more than how to read. She was an awesome role model! We kept in touch even after I moved away and when she was in her 70's she danced at my wedding.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks Lizzy for reminding me that good teachers can relate to a variety of different people. Wow. Yes, that's so crucial, isn't it?

And Joanne, YES, great teachers inspire students to teach themselves and each other. That was always an intention when I was teaching. Sometimes it even worked!

Reya Mellicker said...

Butternut - she danced at your wedding? WOW!!

Sandra Leigh said...

Some of my fondest memories are of teachers. One of them made me fall in love with Latin - and yes, there was a crush happening there - but hey, I was fourteen - and I still love Latin!

Mrsupole said...

I think the best teachers are the ones who instill a love of learning about anything and everything throughout their life, and what they teach their students stays with them for many years to come. I have a few teachers who taught me things from over 45 years ago and I still remember what they said about certain things. A great teacher is one that you never forget. I still follow those things they taught me. But there are so many kinds of great teachers that it is hard to pinpoint one certain thing. I just think that if you learn something from that teacher you were lucky, if you remember what you learned you are well off and if you actually put to use what that teacher taught then that is fantastic. The best teachers instill in you a desire to spend your whole life learning new things each and every day. I try to teach my grandkids this. The sad thing is that some of the teachers today are just paid babysitters because there are too many students per class. Things need to change or our educational system is doomed. Our countries future depends upon this.

God bless.

Steve said...

Teaching is indeed a special gift. My parents both started out as teachers, but only my dad stuck with it -- and I think that's because it suited his temperament and abilities. My mom decided to work on computers instead, and that suited her temperament and abilities.

I'll miss learning from Rev. Sumter too! Maybe you can wander past her new location now and again? :)

mary said...

Happy Monday - I slept in and everyone is at work by now .....don't get me started on teachers OMG - they are the angels on earth - the least appreciated and least paid considering the future of our country, our WORLD depends on what they can do. We need to take the government and excessive standardized testing out of class and let these wonderful people TEACH. iT IS A GIFT and their hands are often tied.

Cyndy said...

It is the most rewarding thing in the whole world to show a student a new way to look at something and then to see them get excited about what they've just learned.

The Family Julz said...

I think about that saying often. Maybe because my Dad & I always thought I'd become an English professor. Maybe because I didn't turn pro and now teach surfing as a profession. I think a little of both.

Teaching is wonderful in that you are sharing a spark with someone. You are showing them how to not only appreciate, but do.

Reminds me of the "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime" quote.

I still have a "crush" on my 3rd grade teacher. She was the most organic woman I'd ever met and that spark within her inspired me to do my best at what she taught. I don't know that she knows what she did for me.

willow said...

The few great teachers, I had still stand out in my memory, as well as the horrible ones. They mediocre ones just kind of faded away. Those with a good sense of humor made learning fun. I think you would have to maintain a healthy sense of humor to be a teacher. Difficult task.

CanadiErin said...

I had a teacher for my junior year history course who all students loved, but all other teachers hated. He related to students so well--especially at risk ones. He taught history through movies, he never passed out a textbook. Our final exam was to watch Forest Gump in class and write down all of the interactions he had with historical people and historical events. I have never forgotten him--he reached students in a way I'd never seen before, and he helped to inspire me to become a teacher. Teachable moments are the best! Thanks, Reya, for stirring up those memories!

Amy said...

This is a nice subject because all of us have been influenced in some way by a teacher.

There is a teacher that I hold close to my heart and it's precisley because he took a personal interest in my well being and blurred the lines a bit between teacher and friend. Not only was he a fantastic teacher academically, but he saw through his students and knew when a little more than teaching from a book was required.

He is a hero to me and I will always love the guy. (I will also never forget the teacher who threw an eraser at my head because she was frustrated that I didn't "get" Algebra. But, that's a different story!)

runmotman said...

my wife is a teacher with a young heart and a passion for her craft; she would love today's post...And around our neck of the woods, Spring is making a's going to be a wonderful, warm week...perfect, i'm on vacation. Enjoy.

California Girl said...

And "those who can't teach, teach gym."

Woody Allen "Annie Hall"

Hammer said...

Robert Bly can certainly turn a phrase - I nearly included one of his in the poetry reading last month. But it still doesn't quite make up for the whole "Iron John" debacle. I mean really, running around in the woods and beating the ground with sticks while we complain about our fathers? In the immortal words of AH-nold in Terminator 2...

"This does not help our mission."

In other news, we're doing the wavelength thing again. I was working on a draft about teaching just yesterday. Oh, and remind me to ask you about an entaglement thing that happened next time we chat.

Lover of Life said...

I have had a few. And I remember them. But not very many, unfortunately.

My daughter wants to be a high-school teacher. At first we tried to sway her in another direction because of all the problems in our school system, not least of which is parents. But then I realized she is one of those people that can see the little kid at the back of the class that just might need her. She has a passion for her subject, and loves children. She is also tough, and believes in personal responsibility. Who better to teach?

The Family Julz said...

p.s. You, Reya, are also one of my favorite teachers ever. Your posts make me think like no other!

sciencegirl said...

You're so right that teaching well is a special gift. It's not just knowing the material, not just charisma, not just getting the point across, not even a passion for your subject. All those are necessary, but there's still a little something that makes the best teachers.
I don't think I have it, but I certainly wish I did. Bravo for all of us who try!

Mrs. E said...

I want to say thank you from all the secondary teachers out there who are just returning from spring break today and wondering if we make a difference at all (all that whining!)---I needed your blog! By the way, I LOVE my job. I can't imagine doing anything else. It doesn't pay well monetarily, but there is definitely job satisfaction.

Peggy said...

Oh, Reya! I was just thinking about this subject! I ran across a Chinese proverb I saw somewhere and jotted on the flyleaf of one of my books: "When the true teacher's job is done, all the students say, 'We did it ourselves'." And you're so right; conveying the info is such a little part of teaching. Beautiful post!

Delwyn said...

True there are teachers of all calibre but it's not only those who stand up in the front of a class that are our teachers. But I agree some of those have a special gift to tickle your synapses.

Teachers come in all shape and form.
My dog was my latest teacher.

Reya Mellicker said...

Hammer I agree with you completely about the Iron John thing. Weird! But his poems are great, so ... whatever. And yes I'll ask about the entanglement thing. I wouldn't even know about that except for you. Thank you.

Sandra - YES, this is exactly what I was talking about. You love Latin! BRAVO!!

Julz I bet you are the BEST surfing teacher there ever was. How I wish I could take a lesson from you! Maybe someday!

Lover of Life - I think our president really gets how important teachers are. I believe he is going to address the sorry state of public education in our country. Might take awhile, but I think we're waking up to how important teachers are.

Peggy I love being on a wavelength with you!

And Delwyn, my dog Jake is one of the greatest teachers I have ever had. I know exactly what you mean.

GREAT comments, again! Thanks ya'll.

Washington Cube said...

I think you have to learn from your students, or it's a waste. I always worked hard for my best teachers, and they benefit back when you're good, in return.

Go over to M.A. Reya. I compared you to Che in DC today.

Ronda Laveen said...

I am not a professional teacher but I have had to teach many things. I have been a bowling coach at levels from tiny tots to professional bowling camps throughout the country. I have taught employess how to do their jobs for years. I have been a trainer for massage therapists in several settings.

For me, it has a lot to do with not only knowing my subject but also the ability to tune into others, matching their wavelength, figure out how they need to receive the informnation and then steadily and patiently raising my frequency to increasingly higer levels not loosing them on the way. It is such a joy when a student starts flying higher than the example I've set.

hele said...

i am still learning how to be a good teacher, with me it has a lot to do with caring more about how much i enjoy my students than worrying about how much they like me.

your post has inspired me to keep on trying as i find this a slightly painful area of growth.

karen said...

I'm also going to really miss the appearances on your blog by the Rev Sylvia , complete with mirror-writing "stop" sign!

Barry said...

Being married to a teacher, I guess I'm kind of biased.

They are a special breed, and fascinating companions.

Also, if you don't feel like talking, they can go on for hours without you.

Lynne said...

One teacher stands out in my mind: my 5th grade teacher, Mr. Jubar. Maybe it was because he was the only man in a gaggle of lady spinsters that he stood out. But no; he was GOOD. He just had a gift.

On the flip side, I had a teacher in high school geometry that completely turned me off of math. He would single me out for errors and had the uncanny knack of bringing out the "bad girl" in me. Oh my. Teaching math was his second job; his other was a men's basketball coach. Mr. Powell, I hope it all came back to you! I blame him for my math block that I have today.

Just me said...

I'm a math teacher because of my tenth grade math teacher. I have made sure to drop him a note to let him know the impact he had on me. :)

As for that line between friend and teacher, I think it's similar to the line that many parents seem to struggle with. I now have former students who are adults and who I consider friends of mine. For current students, I am probably more "friendly" than some, but it is important to still be a leader and an authority. I make sure to make clear to my students what is appropriate between a teacher and student, and also between an adult and a child.

Bee said...

I heard from a college friend today, and we were reminiscing about one our English professors. He said that he had never loved books/reading so much before -- or since.

Your insights on what makes for a great teacher are right on the mark.

CanadiErin said...

"If you don't feel like talking, they can go on for hours without you."

HOW TRUE! My poor husband was subjected to going to one of my after-school-on-Friday gab sessions with my fellow educators, and he couldn't believe how much we talked! :)

Gary said...


What a lovely post. I do think teaching is an art and that saying "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach" actually haunted me for quite a while and I think may have played a role in keeping me from teaching. I have since come to realize that the saying is not true. It takes away the power of good teaching and sees it as a back-up plan rather than a meaningful choice.


lettuce said...

what a shame - i'll miss her sermon titles!

particularly fine reflections in that top photo reya.