When I think of all the teachers I’ve ever had, I am amazed at the many roles they have to play for their students’ success. In addition to being educators, they can be mentors, role models, knowledgeable experts, a sympathetic ear, even a fellow student! Whether you’re a tutor, a schoolteacher, or a university professor, you’ll find yourself playing these roles, and the very best educators play multiple roles seamlessly. Here are a few teachers I’ve had and the lessons that all educators can learn from them.
Mrs. Berens: 4th Grade
4th grade was arguably my greatest year of school, period. I’m not kidding. I had it all: good grades, popularity, an active social life, and so much more. I also developed a genuine love of learning, which I owe to the efforts of my teacher, Mrs. Berens.
Mrs. Berens seemed to know everything and was eager to share all that knowledge with you, ready or not. She was a real-life Ms. Frizzle! We covered a ton of subjects every day: Math, Science, History, English, and did a lot of group work in each of them. I remember when she gave us multiplication speed tests, and then instructed us to get with two to three other students to compare answers and correct our work. Everything was a collaborative process in her classroom, and I loved it. The classroom itself was FULL of resources we used during our free time. There was a huge bookshelf that I loved to pick from because she always had the best books that weren’t always available in the library. It was a space designed to maximize learning, but that wasn’t even the best part. Mrs. Berens not only encouraged excellence, she expected and demanded it.
And she rewarded excellence in the best ways: special field trips, lunches, computer privileges—once, when we achieved a reading goal she had set for us, she arranged for our class to attend a movie premiere in Hollywood! She had influence!
The Lesson: Passion
I loved Mrs. Berens because she played a strong leadership role in our learning journey. She set a high standard, expected us to achieve it, and allowed us to be curious and discover new things in the process. With her, learning was a true pleasure, and I understood that attending school was not my duty, it was my privilege.
Mrs. Rosemann: 6th Grade
As an unruly 10-year-old, I lacked the self-control to focus on my studies sometimes. Take an absentminded child, add a newfound access to video games, and you’ve got a kid who’s not always paying attention in the classroom. Mrs. Rosemann changed all that.
She seemed wonderfully odd to me when I first met her. She had fiery red hair that looked out of place paired with her usual dark blazers. As it turned out, her fashion sense was a perfect illustration of the kind of teacher she was. She struck a balance between stern and empathetic, serious and silly, kind and cold. When teaching math and science, she was all business. When we got to reading and art, however, she’d prance around the room, vibrant and animated. Mrs. Rosemann ran a structured classroom, and her expectations were clearly laid out from day one. She was a strict disciplinarian: if you were caught messing around, she would call you out in front of the whole class. But she was also a free spirit who encouraged creativity from all of us. In the middle of the year, our class wrote and performed our own Greek tragedy—we made our own costumes and everything!
The Lesson: Discipline
Mrs. Rosemann introduced structure at a pivotal time in our lives. At the start of our preteen years, other things were more important than school, and she taught us to remain studious, composed, and to take our own learning seriously. Most importantly, she held us accountable for our behavior, our assignments, and for understanding the lessons. Many of the best educators emphasize that learning is also YOUR responsibility.
Ms. Bullard: 9th Grade English
Following my middle school years—where I had been puffed up and praised for doing well with relatively easy work—Ms. Bullard shattered my idea of what good academic writing was and forced me to improve my skills—or suffer the consequences…
I’ll never forget that first day: We were a bunch of arrogant freshmen, straight out of junior high, sitting at our desks, waiting to receive a worksheet to fill out for 45 minutes. But it never came.
Instead, Ms. Bullard told us to write an essay about our summer reading. With a thesis, supporting evidence, specific details, a conclusion, and everything. Without the book. Using memory alone. We had to find sources. It was a bloodbath.
After that, the real work began. She taught us two important things about academic writing and communication in general: how you say something is as important as what you’re saying, and if you’re going to take a position, you’d better be able to back it up. Her class was rigorous. It was frustrating. It felt impossible. If you managed to break into the “A” range, you felt like a champion because you fought for it.
The Lesson: Humility
With knowledge comes pride. The best teachers give you a good kick in the shins and make you forget everything you think you know so you can start learning from a new perceptive, which ultimately makes you smarter. Even though it was a freshman English class, Ms. Bullard treated us like seniors. She expected nothing but clear, excellent writing from us, and that’s what we had to deliver if we wanted to survive. She was a relentless, unforgiving coach—just what we needed.
Mrs. Haus: 9th, 10th, and 11th Grade Biology (AND Chemistry)
Science was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it’s all thanks to Mrs. Haus. A lot of students complained about her because she gave a lot of homework, although I later realized the reason why. Much of the learning process is repetition, and her classes were all repetition, all the time! In high school, test preparation slowly takes precedence over actual learning, but not in Mrs. Haus’ class. She taught for understanding.
In my freshman year, she gave us packets filled with a list of that week’s science terms for us to define, as well as a ton of short answer questions that we had to complete with thorough explanations. One week, we had to explain the process of Meiosis, and if we left out a single part, we could expect corrective red marks all over the page.
The devil was in the details, and I didn’t have a biology tutor.
Her pickiness followed me on to 10th grade, her 6 week summer Chemistry course (which was brutal), and ESPECIALLY to AP Biology, where I wrote, reviewed, and rewrote answers for her all year.
But here’s the thing: her obsession with detail was only half of her winning teaching style. She also focused on getting to know each student and our weaknesses so she could help us learn in our own ways. She knew that I’d skip over the smallest details, so she made me revise assignments again and again until I learned to be thorough.
And it worked! I scored high on the AP test!
The Lesson: Perseverance
Even though she was incredibly nit-picky, Mrs. Haus taught me that anything worth doing is worth doing correctly. Excellence is all about the small things that can make or break you, and my time with her was a testament to that fact.
The great educators in our lives have all played roles besides that of “teacher” in order to teach those core values that help us succeed. Good teachers stick to the material, amazing teachers go beyond it. The best thing about that is, every teacher has the opportunity to be a great educator if they’re willing to walk the extra mile.
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