As Thanksgiving approaches and the impulse to express gratitude grows stronger, I recognize that one of the things I’m most grateful for is my education. Not necessarily all the math and reading lessons, but all of the wonderful teachers who taught me, cared about me and generally enriched my life. As a gesture of thanks, here are three qualities I’m so glad my teachers possessed.
- Bringing oneself into the classroom. My kindergarten teacher only had four toes on one of her feet. I believe she shared this with us as part of a cautionary tale, as she lost it due to reckless bicycle riding, but this fact immediately endeared her to us. I’m sure that as a seasoned teacher she was aware of the effect this would have, but she didn’t have to tell us. Certainly taking off one’s shoe and sock in the middle of a classroom comes with a bit of discomfort, but she knew it would help build a relationship between her and her students, and so she did it.
- Going against the grain. I went to a small, fairly rural high school where “normal” classes were our only option – except for select students, for one semester, at one grade level. If a student were lucky enough to be scheduled into the American Studies class – a combination English/history seminar – she found herself under the tutelage of two of the most experienced and knowledgeable (and underrated) teachers in the building. They envisioned a class based on the discussion and generation of ideas, and had to fight for its creation, as it was not a style to which our administration was accustomed. I’m indebted to these teachers for doing what they did; not only did it break the monotony of the norm, giving us the opportunity to stretch our brains in ways other classes didn’t allow, but, in hindsight, it was the most tangible preparation for college that high school gave me. These two teachers taught us critical thinking.
- Passion. My senior year of college, I took a course with a professor I’d never had, based entirely on a quartet of books I’d never heard of. It could have been a disaster, but instead turned out to be my favorite class out of four years of classes – due in more than a part to the passion of the teacher. The books were set in the city of Alexandria (in Egypt) and had themes, as most great books do, of love, truth and art, as well as moorish mysticism. We only had class once a week, for several hours in the evening. In order to bring us into the books, the professor would frequently bring elaborate spreads of Mediterranean food for us to sample while we talked, and more than once he had us over to his house to take part in hands-on art seminars. He even went so far as to take a small group of us – on a Saturday, no less – to a city several hours away to see a performance of the Whirling Dervishes, as it was relevant to topics in the novels.
Had I read these books on my own, I certainly would have had a much less dynamic and meaningful understanding. And while I haven’t gone back and read them a second time and couldn’t talk about plot details, these books remain some of my favorites – and that is due entirely to the passion of one professor.
What do you remember about some of your favorite teachers? Please share your thoughts below.