As schools have resumed for the millions of students in our country, we know we have issues. There is the fear of school shootings. Perhaps we wonder whether our special needs students will have teachers who work to understand them. Maybe a child we know has been bullied in the past, and we’re hoping that won’t be repeated. With tight budgets, we question if we’ll have the requisite dollars to buy school supplies/new clothes or pay for lunches. We know that reading skills can slip over the summer, and we regret that we allowed our children to spend so much time playing video games.
And there is always apprehension about the teachers and professors our students will be assigned. Some in a course I recently taught for technology employees regaled me with wild stories about the behavior of teachers from their past: the teacher with the bull horn that he blasted into the ears of students who were sleeping in class, the one who threw a roll of toilet tissue at anyone who was sniffling, the instructor who placed the cord from the Venetian blinds around the necks of students who talked while he was presenting, the football coach who talked to students as if they were players in the locker room when he wasn’t staring at the chalkboard, the art teacher who stole the best pieces from students’ art portfolios. (Was this a compliment? Was he claiming them as his own or selling them?)
I remember my sister told this about her sixth-grade teacher: The building caught on fire and the alarm sounded. The teacher grabbed her coat and pocketbook and shouted, “Run, children, run!”
One of my Facebook friends and a former student described his high school biology teacher being bitten by a poisonous snake while talking about safely handling dangerous creatures. (He survived). Another Facebook friend described a teacher losing a front tooth while teaching and having it back in place after lunch, secured with chewing gum.
At formal and informal reunions with former classmates, we tend to recall incidents that were outrageous. Seldom do we share those times when a teacher or professor inspired us, gave us that shot of courage we needed, comforted us.
Yesterday, I received an email from one of my online students who told me he didn’t have a wacky teacher story. He wrote, “I was the sixth of seven children, an asthmatic, and was in second grade at P.S. 112 in New York. My teacher, Mrs. Swire, took me to the local zoo and bought me a bouncy-balloon ball. She pointed out to the other children in the class they needed to be more like me. I have a picture of the two of us, and she holds a very large place in my heart.”
As the school year begins, consider writing a letter to a special teacher who might need your encouragement as he/she deals with the jitters we all have as we meet our students in the first few weeks of the new academic year. Even if that teacher has passed on or you can’t locate an address (easy to do now with the web), write that letter anyway. And begin moving conversations about your school days to positive positions, not only for you but also for the benefit of listeners.
In closing, I want to share some advice my students in a communication class this summer at Edison State gave for my incoming students. These students know that everyone in a class, as well as the instructor, is responsible for making that learning experience a positive one:
• “Utilize the criticisms and compliments as an advantage to grow as a person and a speaker.” — Becky
• “If you feel nervous, learn ways to calm your nerves. Don’t let them be a reason to drop a class.” — Michael
• “Rehearse your speeches. This is important. It’s easy to tell if you didn’t.” — Christopher G.
• “Complete all assignments by the due time, come to class regularly with the right attitude, and participate in class discussions .” — Sydney
• “Give detailed feedback to your classmates as this helps them as well as you. Everything is better when you’re working as a group and you can enjoy your time in class.” — Chasity
• “Do not be afraid to voice your opinion. Speak up. It really is hard to be taken with any merit if your audience can’t hear you.” — Marco
• “Be on time and don’t miss a class. Explore new topics you normally wouldn’t.” — Chris N.
• “Always choose a topic that you’re interested in or can relate to.” — Samantha
• “Do your research and listen as much as you speak.” — Carson
• “Don’t be afraid to work your stage and use your body language. Involve your audience!” — Jennifer.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College, and to work with veterans. Reach her at 937-778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.