Welcome back to Deep-Fried Friday and my High School Halls series, where this young adult author takes a look at high school back when I was attending (in the 1980s) and high school now.
That Was Then
Was this your high school? I hope not! (Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)
Her name was, oddly enough, Mrs. Glover (no relation). Standing about 5’2″ in high heels and having a diminutive frame, she didn’t appear to be an imposing figure. But if you thought that she was a lightweight, you would be quite wrong.
Mrs. Glover taught high school choir and had a reputation for being tough yet bringing out the best in her students. When she first came to our high school, choir was not popular. Smart woman that she was, she started wooing the jocks. She would find them in the halls and say, “I want you in my choir.” Once she had recruited a few manly high school guys, choir was no longer seen as a place for geeky glee club types but rather a place where anyone who wanted to sing could gather. And we gathered–high schoolers of all backgrounds and cliques.
She was known to yell, stamp, lecture, wave her finger, and throw out proverbs and wisdom like a Greek philosopher. Anything to get the best out of us. When we weren’t performing up to par, she gave us the “you’ve got so much potential, use it!” speech that sounded as inspired as any graduation commencement offering.
Mrs. Glover reminded me of Lydia Grant (Debbie Allen in the Fame TV series).
Mrs. Glover was an amazing teacher. Because while she taught about music and singing, she taught us more about life. About working hard and not giving up. About respect and courtesy. About using your potential. About blessing others with whatever talent you’ve been given.
And she wasn’t my only favorite.
- Mrs. McFarlane was an “odd bird” whom we occasionally mocked for the massive bun on her head and the way she responded to every question about the homework, “That was the easiest problem.” However, she was brilliant in teaching algebra and geometry. She loved her subject and was determined that no student get left behind long before that saying caught on.
- Mrs. Travis was my English teacher for two years. She let me be honest: When I was reading The Last of the Mohicans, she admitted that the first 50 pages were not that good and suggested I keep going. I explained that I would not finish a book in which 50 pages were no good since we were always being told that the first paragraph of our essays had to hook the reader. She let it go. She also taught me that you can break the rules of writing…after you have learned them and only for effect.
- Mr. James was a former 1960s hippie turned frumpy government and economics teacher. He treated teenagers like we had something to say and encouraged us to think through subjects for ourselves. He presented such a balanced case of current affairs and politics that near the end of the year, we finally asked what his own political persuasion was. We had no idea.
I had my not-so-favorites as well, including a teacher who wrongfully accused me of cheating. Sadly, there are some teachers who made a less than favorable impression and probably should have been working elsewhere.
However, the vast majority of teachers enjoy working with children, are passionate about what they teach, and will go to great lengths to instill knowledge and wisdom in those students willing to listen and study. Believe me, they don’t do it for the money.
This Is Now
Of the five members of my family of origin, three have taught in public schools. Teaching others has been a passion of my family in general, and I am very proud of my family for what they do. I have learned from them how teaching these days is different from when I was a kid.
First, those pesky tests. Thank heavens I didn’t have to take a state-administered test to pass from one grade to the next, but they are widespread in today’s schools. Teachers are pressured to teach students according to the test’s objectives, and students are pressured to perform well on these tests.
Second, parents advocate more for their kids. This has plusses and minuses. Some kids need a parent advocating for them in school when things are not going well. Some kids, however, misbehave and disrupt, and teachers get parents in their face advocating for their bad behavior. And there are the “helicopter parents” who may not get in the teacher’s face, but they can’t seem to let go and let their kid do things on their own.
Third, there is a lot more training involved. Teachers typically have college degrees in their field, teaching certificates, and requirements for continuing education. The field of research in education has expanded drastically, so new insights and techniques are passed down and around through workshops and staff training. I’m amazed at how effective math teaching to my kids has been, and I attribute that somewhat to learning how to best teach math to kids.
Fourth, teacher have less freedom than they used to. Federal regulations, state objectives, and district plans often dictate exactly what will be taught and when. Despite the additional training teachers receive, they are often not given freedom to teach a subject in the way they see fit. Sadly, this micromanagement is one reason I hear for teachers leaving the field of education.
Fifth, oh my, the technology! Technology has been incorporated into the classroom in ways I could not have imagined as I sat in 10th grade computer class with a blinking cursor on my screen. Today’s teens have assignments to research online, blog and chat about ideas and teaching units, create audio/visual projects with YouTube and presentation software, and much, much more. Many districts are also starting to allow students to use their cell phones and tablets and laptops at school for academic purposes. These high schoolers really are the wired generation.
Yet even though some things change, a great teacher is still a great teacher. Outside of a parent stressing the importance of education, the most influential factor in a child’s academic success is a quality teacher.
Today my hat is off to those men and women who take on the education of our children, through public schools, private schools, tutoring, and homeschooling cooperatives. It’s not an easy job, but when it’s done well, teachers make a lasting impact. Think about all of the movies that feature an outstanding teacher: Stand and Deliver (1988), Dead Poets Society (1989), Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), October Sky (1999), and more. Think about those who have made an impact in your life through teaching you.
Great teachers bring out your best! (Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.)
Now tell me about your favorite teachers. And maybe a couple of not-so-favorites, if you have an interesting story there. What do you think has changed about teaching high school? Have ever taught school yourself?