My best teachers were not just different, they were opposites in life-style, age, gender, philosophy, education, experience, and pedagogy. They had one characteristic in common. Ironically, it’s the same characteristic students have in common: each is unique.
by Bill Page
Regular contributor to the Gazette
May 1, 2008
Two teachers among all my teachers were so outstanding that they rendered all the rest into a category that can easily be described all together in a single word – forgettable. These two memorable teachers caused my life to come out very differently than it would have without their influence. I still feel genuine affection, gratitude, and warmth decades later.
Teachers do not work with lesson plans, textbooks and materials. They work with what is in their head in relation to what is in the student’s head. Apparently I didn’t have a good “head connection” through my elementary years. I remember the names of only two of the eight teachers I had in eight grades, and nothing worthwhile of the classes.
“What are the characteristics of a good teacher?” is still being bantered among educators, researched in colleges, and debated in journals. I know what a good teacher is, even if the experts don’t. Good teachers are the ones who genuinely care about kids. Whether teachers show their caring by a kind of strictness that some kids call “mean,” whether teachers show concern by a willingness to stray from the lesson, or whether by a warm friendliness, caring is the single most important element in the teaching-learning process. And the essence of that process is the teacher-student relationship.
Teachers can’t fool kids. Even if the kid is perceptually handicapped and the teacher particularly clever, the kid is still more perceptive than the teacher is clever.
The teaching-learning process is a relationship involving intellectual, emotional, and attitudinal interactions that defy simple definitions of teaching. What’s more, teaching-learning always occurs in a context which is an integral part of the process. The medium is the message.
Teacher caring is an act of attending, of active listening, of paying close attention, of eye contact, of an expression of interest, a “felt,” inexplicable aura, and a response that shows understanding and empathy. One requirement is that caring be authentic, genuine. Teachers can’t fool kids. Even if the kid is perceptually handicapped and the teacher particularly clever, the kid is still more perceptive than the teacher is clever. And kids don’t fall for phony, superficial stuff. The well-known aphorism, “They’ve got to know how much you care; before they care how much you know” is true.
Since Teacher Appreciation Week is in May, let me show my appreciation for the two teachers who were authentic, who had unique ways of showing me they cared about my life, and who shaped my life. Two teachers, the best teachers I have ever known, were opposites in every way but one—I learned equally well from each of them.
Miss Daphne Crawford
I remember Miss Daphne Crawford, from her ankles hanging over her matronly shoes to the streaked gray hair tightly wound in a bun on the back of her head, secured with a sharpened wooden peg, shiny from use. She was the epitome of the classical “old maid school marm” from her marital status and starched fluffy white lace blouses, to her dark colored dress suits, and to what I knew of her life-style.
With the mien of a countess, she was always in the” teacher mode,” a pedagogue, who persisted in correcting not only student errors but also other teacher’s grammar as well.
Miss Crawford was what I later learned to recognize as “pernickety” with exaggerated enunciation and propriety. With the mien of a countess, she was always in the ”teacher mode,” a pedagogue, who persisted in correcting not only student errors but also other teacher’s grammar as well. She pounced on spoken, grammatical errors at the time they occurred, in the middle of a sentence, not afterward. Though it has been fifty-eight years since I spoke to her, her exacting articulation in the manner of a Shakespearean Actor still reverberates precisely in my memory:
“They are not 'kids,' they are children. Kids are baby goats.”
“It is not a car it is an automobile” (accent on 'mo' not on 'bile' and with short i).
“Our school is Herculaneum High School not Herky High.”
“It’s St Joseph Lead Company that built this town; Don’t call it, “St Joe.”
“My automobile is a coupe, pronounced coo-pay not ‘coop.’ Coupe is a French word, not to be mistaken for a chicken house”
One unforgettable error I made was while reading aloud a passage from Hamlet regarding the Brazier (torch) closest to the queen’s chamber. I called it the “queen’s brassiere.” Miss Crawford slammed her fist on her desk saying ‘Brazier, Brazier, Brazier’ three times, glaring as though I had used a vulgar or profane four-letter word. No one laughed – until after class.
Miss Crawford threw a chalk box toward me one time in freshman math for giving her a kind of disgusted roll of the eyes response. The wooden box had a sliding lid and contained excelsior and chalk that spilled as it hit the floor. However obvious it was that she didn’t intend to hit me with the missile, it did get myattention. Funny how I still hesitate when I am tempted to roll my eyes contemptuously, even today. Her teaching technique worked.
Justifiably, serenely, professionally proud, Daphne Crawford was the lady who
boarded forty-plus years at the house of a school board member’s family
drove a shiny black ‘37 Plymouth Coupe about ten blocks to school
taught me one subject each of my four years--ninth grade math, tenth grade algebra, eleventh grade geometry/trigonometry, and twelfth grade literature
caused me to do “homework” for the first time in my school career
refused to let me get away with “I don’t know,” and “I didn’t do it.” answers
affected my student life and behavior for four years more than any other teacher before or since
was always serious, never smiled, always corrected me, but never once complimented me
seemed friendly but I was never quite sure whether she liked me or not, even as a senior, after four classes and four years, I wasn’t sure
never said an encouraging word. I assumed not being corrected meant I was doing fine
started teaching at 16 years of age and went to college every summer, accumulating several degrees, including certification in Latin and Greek
taught for 42 years in the same room of the same building
got the Missouri Governor’s commendation upon her retirement
Did I ever let her know what she did to me and for me?
Did I ever tell her she was my best teacher?
Did I ever say, “Thanks”?
Did I let her know when I too became a teacher?
Did I ever send her a Christmas card?
Did I ever write a two-sentence note thanking her for what she did for me?
“NO!” And I am ashamed and sorry, Miss Crawford, please forgive me. And, Thanks!
These two teachers made a difference in my life. I am most fortunate and thankful that the school system didn’t try to standardize teaching characteristics and didn’t require or even expect them both to teach the same or be the same.
Coach Morris Osborn
Coach Osborn’s ever-present smile was contagious. I can’t think of him without the vision of his warm smile that was an outward display of his inward enjoyment and delight in the teaching/coaching/learning relationship with students. Sure glad the education professors didn’t teach him, “Do NOT smile till Christmas,”
Did Coach Osborn, a 22 year-old first year teacher/coach, fresh out of college know that he was a role model for me?
Did he consciously decide discussing boy-girl relationships was more important than teaching course content in my third period civics class?
Did he fear administrative consequences from being “off the subject all the time?”
Did he purposefully, meaningfully sit on the desk Yogi style with crossed legs asking questions that caused me to think and reflect?
Did he have any idea whatsoever that he was my idol; that I would emulate him?
That most of the football team members felt as I did?
That I would steadfastly refuse to smoke and drink, “Cause coach said so?”
That his pleasant manner, never raising his voice, cheerful demeanor and friendliness brought respect not contempt?
That I didn’t listen to his two “tough coach” predecessors who yelled a lot?
That town’s people said he was way too nice to have a “winning team”?
That he was worth more than the $2400 per year they paid him?
Did Morris Osborn know that his coaching would enable me to go to Missouri University on a full football grant-in-aid scholarship?
Did Coach know the letter he wrote me at college would bring me tears, determination, and success?
That it was he personally, not football, that helped me develop as a person?
I don’t know! In fact, I have no idea! I never previously thought about it.
Did I answer his poignant letter and then thank him for his help, what his advice meant to me, and what he helped me to become?
“NO!” Would I like to have the opportunity thank him now?
“You can bet my letter sweaters I would!” But it’s too late. As the Persian Poet, Omar said, “The moving finger writes and having writ moves on. Nor all your piety and wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line; nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”
These two teachers made a difference in my life. Each was completely different from each other, very different in their backgrounds, styles, personality, knowledge, age, emotions, experience, mannerisms, teaching preparation, philosophy, and techniques. They were different in their impact on me. But I learned from each of them. I am most fortunate and thankful that the school system didn’t try to standardize teaching characteristics and didn’t require or even expect them both to teach the same or be the same. I wonder if they were “highly qualified”? I wonder if I would have passed state tests, if they had been required?
Did the other 14 teachers I had in high school know how little I learned from them? How little I cared about them?
“NO!” Would they have known me had I gone back to visit some years later? “Surely you jest!” I made no more impression on them than they did on me.
I wonder how my life would have been affected if I had had six great teachers instead of just three, or only one—or maybe none? I can’t imagine that I’ll ever know, or think about it again.
Bill Page, a farm boy, graduated from a one-room school. He forged a career in the classroom teaching middle school “troublemakers.” For the past 26 years, in addition to his classroom duties, he has taught teachers across the nation to teach the lowest achieving students successfully with his proven premise, “Failure is the choice and fault of schools, not the students.”
Bill Page is a classroom teacher. For 46 years, he has patrolled the halls, responded to the bells, and struggled with innovations. He has had his share of lunchroom duty, bus duty, and playground duty. For the past four years, Bill, who is now in his 50th year as a teacher, is also a full time writer. His book, At-Risk Students is available on Abebooks, Amazon, R.D. Dunn Publishing, and on Bill’s web site: http://www.teacherteacher.com/
In At-Risk Students, Page discusses problems facing failing students, “who can’t, don’t and won’t learn or cooperate.” “The solution,” he states, “is for teachers to recognize and accept student misbehavior as defense mechanisms used to hide embarrassment and incompetence, and to deal with causes rather than symptoms. By entering into a democratic, participatory relationship, where students assume responsibility for their own learning.” Through 30 vignettes, the book helps teachers see failing students through his eyes as a fellow teacher, whose classroom success with at-risk students made him a premier teacher-speaker in school districts across America.