My early educational experiences were remarkably typical for the early 1970s – the baby boom had ended, and public schools everywhere were closing due to low enrollment. Throughout elementary school, my class was a singleton – a single section of 27-29 students with one teacher (and occasionally an aide). Decades later, when I taught elementary school, I marveled at how these women (they were all women) managed to not just control but also teach us!
One night I regaled my parents with the deficiencies of my “ancient” first grade teacher, Miss Nowell, who was the only teacher all my three siblings and I ever shared. My dad, one of the most patient people on the planet, finally put down his fork and told me that the old lady I was criticizing had been one of his classmates. Oh dear.
I was well prepared, I believed, for the rigors of boarding school when, as a new 10th grader, I got my first English composition back. To be blunt, Mrs. Cassedy was not impressed. Weak on grammar, lacking a thesis, and utterly without punctuation, this was not quite the tour de force I imagined. She and many others helped me mature as a student, leading inexorably (although I didn’t have a clue at the time) to my years as an English teacher. Mrs. Cassedy helped me so skillfully that I wasn’t aware of her efforts until graduation, when my mother pointed her out to me and stated, “that teacher made all the difference.”
My journey continued through a liberal arts college experience with lots and lots of reading and writing, combined with summers spent as a camp counselor and canoe guide in the woods of Maine. In the spring of my junior year in college, I realized that in order to keep the camp gig going, I would have to find something to do in the winter. Little did I know that this impulsive decision would lead to a lifetime in and around the school world.
I frequently ask students I work with today about their teachers; my intent is to determine whether their learning can be described as teacher-driven or subject-driven. While their answers vary, I am firmly in the former camp. If I sense a connection with a teacher, I redouble my efforts and often surprise myself with the outcomes. This inclination, above all others, informed my approach to teaching.
Students of all ages need advocates, individuals who will listen, advise, cajole, and cheer them along throughout their educational journey. The effects of these figures, whether obvious or not, have a lasting and immeasurable impact. Thank you to all of the teachers, named and not, who found connections with me and helped me find success along the way.