On Teachers and Hard Work

Writing around these parts has been sporadic because of my new venture into the world of baseball analysis.  In a way it’s been nice to explore writing in a more analytic fashion (most of the time).

Still, every now-and-then I build up enough information in my mental filing cabinets and feel like I need to organize it.  From this concept, Ramble On was born.

But I digress. (As I often do.)

The other week before school let out I was talking to some of my colleagues about who their greatest educational influences were as students.  Some had mentioned teachers that showed compassion.  Some mentioned teachers that were strict and consistent.  Some mentioned teachers that made them think differently about something for the first time.  When I was posed the same question, however, I had to stop and think.

I was provided a quality education in rural Northwestern Pennsylvania; I truly believe that.  From kindergarten to undergrad, I’ve interacted with some of the most influential people in my life, let alone my learning process.  In some instances I took full advantage of the education that was being provided to me, but other times I didn’t.  So as I was pondering that heavy question, I wondered what made the excellent teachers stand out.  Why did I work extra hard for some teachers, but not for others?

And then I thought about my own teaching style and the students that seem to take away the most from me as an educator.  When I put together my educational career as a student with my teaching career, I suddenly felt like I painted a very clear portrait of the people who influenced me as a student.  I learned the most and gave the most to the educators who connected to me through language.  To this day, I still enjoy nothing more than sitting in a lecture or meeting and hearing someone say something profound enough to catch my attention.  That’s what I crave in conversation as well.

Say something smart enough or clever enough or different enough to pique my interest.  Make me interested in you and what you have to say and that’s when I’ll thrive as a student.

To this day, there are still things that I vividly remember teachers saying that have remained with me since elementary school.

My earliest such memory was in third grade.  Students were ability grouped for reading so that all of the high-achieving readers were in one class, the on pace readers were in another, and the below grade level readers in another.  I’m not, and never have been, a naturally brilliant person, so I found myself in the middle group of readers.  While it was never explicitly stated, in third grade it didn’t take more than a few days to figure the system out.  So there I sat in Mrs. Brown’s classroom reading ‘The Boxcar Children’ while the students in Mr. Seger’s class were tackling Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ series.

I remember writing a summary of ‘The Boxcar Children’ and at the end, to close my summary, writing, ‘But I bet it’s not as good as “Little House on the Prarie.”‘

Eventually my passive-aggressive attempts to try and get myself moved up to the top reading group turned into flat out asking if I could change classes for reading.  After a few times pestering Mrs. Brown, I was eventually allowed to go to Mr. Seger’s class where I sat down with the man himself and read from the ‘Little House’ book they were reading in class.  It was the first real job interview or audition I had for anything.  As I walked into the room, I felt just as nervous as I did before a Little League baseball game.  The butterflies were fluttering as I sat down at the tiny rectangular table in the corner of his room and stared at ‘The Little House on the Prarie’.

At that instant, the book looked gargantuan.  Those butterflies turned into a sense of panic as I thumbed to the page he requested.

I remember struggling through reading the few pages that I was asked to read.  Not terribly, but enough that I knew, as a third grader, that I didn’t sound impressive as a reader.  I suddenly felt like that classroom was out of my league.  When I closed the book at the end, I was nearly in tears.  Mr. Seger looked right at me and asked me how I thought I did.  To save face I sheepishly said I thought I did okay.  Then he told me something that, to this day, nearly 22 years later, I still appreciate as a thirty year old man.

He said he knew the books they were reading in his class were going to be challenging for me.  But he told me if I was willing to work hard, try my best, and get all of my assignments finished, he would add me to his reading class.

To this day, whenever I feel like I’m up against someone or something, even if they seem like the best of the best, I recall that moment with Mr. Seger when I may have been in a bit over my head.  I remember the hard work that I put in to earn my spot in his classroom.  It was the first time I enjoyed reading after school at home because I felt like I had a purpose.  All because of a simple conversation; a simple lesson.  Mr. Seger taught me that hard work could pay off.

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