Originaly posted on November 30, 2012 at 12:25 PM
I’m presently at work on a novel which starts with the viewpoint character Mardi Lamonte checking his Master’s Thesis in the University library and finding instead of the $20 bill he’d left in it, a message from his Third Grade teacher Sue Randall, which soon sends him on a mission which has life or death significance not only for him but for a significant portion of the Human Race. (By the way Sue Randall played the part of Miss Landers on the ‘50s/’60s TV show Leave it to Beaver.) Having so begun therefore it was incumbent on me to show what there was about this grade school teacher that would make anything she might have to say to a man who is five or more years out of graduate school; so crucial. This in turn brings up the question of what is outstanding teaching and who are outstanding teachers?
Mrs. Hazel Barns (6th/7th Grades) scared the living hell out of me but I always liked her. She was strict, exacting, would joke a certain amount but took crap-zero. She also let us know she loved us. She also made us staple in the back of our English books the various parts of speech (I still don’t remember them all but knew them then) and she taught us how to do bibleographies and to write formal reports. Beyond this she was just Mrs. Barns. She was an excellent teacher for me and I believe, most others at that time and place.
Genevieve Gorder 2nd Grade didn’t really teach me all that much but gave me opportunity to learn. She’d talked to me about subjects of interest to me and she shared with us things fun and significant to her. She was sweet and gentle spirited and when she irritated me it was generally that she insisted that certain kids were friends of mine who really weren’t at that place and that time. I called Miss Gorder up when I was 35 years old to tell her I still loved her.
Tom Hall with whom I studied first Physical Science, then Physics, then advanced Physics in high school, had many endearing quirks and in some ways was somewhat inept as a mentor. His organization was poor. His memory was poor especially for things that weren’t in his normal routine. Still he had a way of inspiring students to wonder and to search. He validated the inspiration we drew from elsewhere. He had a sort of “Wow that’s pretty neat!” way about him that might show as much appreciation for a novel toy as for a well-reasoned term paper. I did some of my most interesting speculating and reading while doing assignments for Mr. Hall.
Though I’ve heard of teachers who lead Outward Bound expeditions, found building projects for shop students, lead marches for social/political issues, take kids to Greece or Russia or someplace, none of the most significant teachers in my life did any of those things but still they made impressions which are still very much with me today. Miss Gorder was the first person to suggest that I might be a scientist some day and I did take a degree in engineering. Mrs. Barns told me once during a time when I was in trouble at school for reasons not entirely my fault; that when people said things about me that weren’t true this was hard but I couldn’t let it keep me from doing my class assignments. Mr. Hall wrote in my annual that “This student is able to take anything that someone says and pick out the profundity in it and if there isn’t any profundity this student takes what is said and somehow makes a profundity out of it.” Minor things? Perhaps but guideposts to live by as valid as any others I’ve seen.
It’s hard to convey in mere print that element that makes a good teacher good and a great teacher great because it’s not just a book sort of thing so Poor Sue Randall will be doing unusual, even outlandish things in my novel “The Void Between” but hopefully it will be more exciting to read than the things which really matter. If anyone is reading this blog, please check in and let us know what your favorite teachers were like and why they were you favorites. Help us learn.