Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Friday, September 4, 2009

Week 1 Worst Teacher Graf 2
I have been very fortunate to always have had the best teachers in school, so it took some long, deep, thought to find fault with anyone of them. I have learned something valuable from each and every one. As cliché as it may sound, in retrospect, I wouldn’t substitute any one of them for someone else.

My Mom and older Sister walked on either side of me up the “Hill”, as it was referred to, to my new school. I had waited five long years to take this walk. My Kindergarten teacher was also to become my First, Second, and Third grade teacher. She taught me not only the basic math fundamentals of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but theories like probability, chance, functions, and problem solving.

Every year, throughout the school year, she rewarded good behavior by giving out green stars. For inappropriate behavior, you were given an orange star. If you were unfortunate enough to accumulate three or more orange stars in a week, you forfeited one of your green stars. Do the math. Five green stars equaled one gold star. Gold stars were a placeholder of sorts and carried a value. Each day after recess, we were given time to take the gold stars we had earned that week and affix them to a paper ticket stub which was then placed into a large, glass fish bowl and kept on the teacher‘s desk. Every Thursday, there would be a drawing. If you were the lucky winner, the classroom pet was allowed to go home with you over that weekend. With some calculating, it was obvious we were especially good before a three day weekend or school vacations.

During those years, besides learning the skills I use today to balance my checkbook, maintain a household budget, and consider investment options, I also learned so much more. I learned a lot about conduct, statistics, human behavior, and how to solve everyday problems. We discussed patterns, sequences, order and place holders and I use these same principles today when designing a quilt or composing a drawing. She taught me to think before reacting and do one step at a time and in a specific order. She taught me that not all values are whole numbers, there is a time and place for fractions. Sometimes a part of something is better than nothing at all. I learned to apply: greater than, equal to, and less than properties in my personal life. In Algebra, I learned sometimes a question will have multiple answers and they all apply. Such is life. For that, I thank you, Mrs. Gilmore.

Mrs. White was my Fourth grade teacher. With all respect, if we were given our name based on our behavior, Mrs. White would have earned the title “Mrs. Green”. If it had been a pleasant day, Mrs. White allowed us to eat our bagged lunches out-of-doors. Between bites of her sandwich, she always fascinated us with her knowledge of anything and everything. Sometimes it was by identifying the clouds overhead: cirrus, cumulus, stratus, etc. or describing the process that made the leaves beneath our feet turn color.

We were encouraged to ask questions. And I asked a lot of questions. We all did. And she embraced every question we asked. She patiently and completely answered all our questions. She would ask us our opinions too. Where did the clouds come from and where were they going? Would they be there if we returned the next day? If we could touch them, would they feel as soft as they looked? Other times, especially if there was an unexpected snow shower, she would hurry us outside just long enough to collect snowflakes on our coat sleeves to admire their beauty. Once indoors, we talked about their molecular structure and made paper cutouts of their unique shapes. We were encouraged to share our discoveries with one another. Looking back, I suspect those quick runs outside were not specifically written in her lesson plan for that day. They just happened that way.

In the Spring, she caught guppies and brought them back to the classroom so we could all watch them grow. Amazed, I asked, ”Where did you find those?”. “In the Charles River, down at the Cove,” she replied. After school that day, I did not go directly home. I went to the riverbank. I collected hundreds of guppies and carried them all home in my thermos. To my disappointment, not all of them made it through the night and my Mom reminisced one time how I cried for a week. Those that survived, I watched and marveled at as they grew and transformed before my eyes. When they outgrew my 5 gallon fish tank, my teacher suggested I release them back to the River. Although I would have preferred to just buy a 10 gallon fish tank and keep my pets, I followed her instructions because she always had the right answers and I respected her judgment.

In the summertime, I returned to my familiar spot on the riverbank and went fishing. I was hoping to catch at least one fish. Soon, my Dad would be planting the tomato plants I would be giving to him on Father’s Day. My teacher had explained how the Native Americans had taught the Pilgrims to successfully plant a crop by putting a fish in with their seeds. While waiting for a “bite”, I was entertained watching the frogs patiently sitting on the lily pads watching me back. This made me wonder. The last day of school, I asked my teacher if she thought any of those frogs might have been one of my guppies? My teacher thought so and I was convinced so too.

During that year, besides learning what a mitochondria was and the freezing point of water, I learned so much more. I learned the consequences of being greedy and to put others' needs before my own. I learned to be spontaneous and go with the flow, life is too short and we do not always get a second chance. She sparked a curiosity that made me want to learn more about my environment. Because of her, I teach Field Sketching at Audubon so others too can capture the beauty of nature while allowing it to remain in its natural habitat. I learned to return to the earth part of what you take each time and don’t take more than you need. Take care of the earth, and it will take care of you. Respect her resources and they will be there for you to enjoy with your grandchildren. That year, I learned first hand about living and dying. I discovered life is not always fair. It is good to ask questions. It helps you understand what is happening and why other things do not or can not happen. Mrs. White, I thank you for opening up my mind, my conscience, and my world.

In Fifth grade, we were to be assigned a homeroom teacher and change classrooms for each subject. However the schedules and classes were configured, I had the same teacher all day in the same room. I did not mind because it had always been that way and I was comfortable with that. I liked consistency.

It is on the tip of my tongue, but for the last two days, I can not recall the name of my Fifth grade teacher. So, she will have to be referred to as "Mrs. Nameless". I do, however, remember she always wore plain, gray, wool tweed skirts. We spent the first twenty minutes of each of her classes reciting drills from the back cover of each of our books. First, there was the multiplication table then the irregular verb declensions and so on. Every day was the same. It became so we could recite those drills without ever referring back to our text. When we were finished, she would read aloud and we complied by following along in our own text books. She never looked up once until the bell rang. Then she would instruct the class which text book to take out next. Every day was the same without exception.

That was the year we learned about our solar system and how the earth was formed. I was especially intrigued because I had seen models depicting the planets, mineral samples, and precious stones displayed at the Boston Museum of Science. I listened attentively and followed along in my text. I knew they existed and the Earth would not be making any more. I also remembered from a Geography class the year before, that oil was a part of that process. I also remembered watching a program on television about oil being the chief source of fuel for the world. I did some quick calculations: drilling x years = depletion.

This concerned me. As I caught my teacher glance up, I raised my hand. I asked a simple question. “What will we do when the oil runs out?”, I asked. No one had ever asked a question before while she was reading. She glared directly at me, waited a minute and proceeded to read on. I thought she might answer my question privately after class but she disappeared when the bell rang. It was a Friday afternoon, last class of the day and she probably wanted to go home. She never stayed late.

The following Monday night was Parent/ Teacher Conferences. I attempted to wait up for my parents to come home. I wanted to hear what my teacher had to say. I always had my homework done and did exceptionally well on quizzes and tests. “What did my teacher say?”, I asked rubbing my blurry eyes as my parents came into my room. It was well past 11:00 P.M. “She thinks you are pensive and is concerned you have too many questions. No need to worry about oil, we have plenty. Get some rest now, you have school in the morning.“, my Mom said as she closed the door behind her. The room was now dark and I felt cold and empty. That did not sound good to me. So, I got up and took the dictionary off my desk and looked up the word “p-e-n-s-i-v-e”. It did not look any better in print. “Sadly reflective“, that is what Webster had to say about pensive. Now, I was sad. I felt I had disappointed both my parents and my teacher.

Then after, I just went to school every day and recited the drills, came straight home and did my homework, and got ready for the next day. I learned the only questions to be asked or answered were at the end of each chapter in my text books. I will always remember “i” before “e” except after “c” and so on. I memorized each state's capital, motto, flower, song, and such. I memorized the positions of each of the planets, their orbits, and size. I memorized mathematical formulas, foreign language vocabulary and so much more.

In the Fall, I entered sixth grade. I sported a new winter jacket because I was considerably taller this year and the sleeves were now too short on last year‘s jacket to be worn this year. But I did not feel as though I had grown any that year. I did not feel I had learned anything new about myself, anyone else or anything else for that matter. Now, I felt the meaning of pensive and I did not like that feeling.

Mrs. Nameless, the greatest lesson you ever taught me was not in anything you ever said as you read aloud in the classroom that year. In fact, I learned it many years later after reflecting on that day. It was what you did not say at that time I remember the most. Today, that incident alone has made me more attuned to each of my students’ individual needs at any given time. I do not feel I disappoint my students by admitting at the time, I do not always have all the answers all the time for every question for everyone. You have also taught me that it may take years to fully understand and appreciate the differences between peoples' styles. And for this, I should perhaps credit you with being my most valued mentor. And that I just learned by doing this assignment.

Now, I am the teacher. I have been teaching for many years now. I still do not have all the answers all the time for every one. In fact, I have more questions than I will ever have time to find the answers to myself. But there is one valuable lesson I have learned over time and I credit my "worst" teacher. When asked a question I do not have an immediate answer to, I smile and say, ”That is a very good question, let me know when you find out the answer so we may all know.”

I have learned something very valuable from each of my teachers. In some way or another, they have all influenced what I do, how I do it, and why I need to do it. And for that I am grateful to them all.


  1. Hey Carolyn--impressive production. At the most basic level, this could well be your example essay later in the semester.

    Impressive? The recall; the refusal to be sentimental; the simplicity of the piece (that's a compliment and does not imply any lack of specificity or well-done filigree.)

    I always look for potential cuts, for words that are just filling space and accomplishing little--none here! My remarks about action verbs and adverbs have obviously been taken up--but how do you feel about that? Do you miss them? Do you feel like you're writing in my voice and not your own?

    And a side-comment: starting at the Edith C Baker School in Brookline in 1950, I never had a missus through 6th grade. Every teacher was a miss; I thought it was a rule, like with nuns or something!

  2. I am impressed you are impressed, John. In your syllabus, you said you wanted to get us "just writing" something without a preoccupation towards grammar, punctuation, impressing you... That permission alone, opened the flood gates.

    As one gets older, I guess, you look to simplify. It is easier to find Truth that way. When you told me action verbs and adverbs "are just filling space and accomplishing little", I realized they were competing with the more important things I wanted to say. No, I do not miss them. My only hope is "Mrs. Nameless" will be of a like mind or at least understanding. Those drills were not really that bad.

    On a side-note, that was the last year I had a "MRS." (or boys) in the classroom. From then on, it was either "Sister ... or "Mother Superior" and 49 other girls, all shorter than me, of course.