This post is in response to Shelly Terrell’s wonderful blogging challenge, Lessons Learned From Great Eductators. She tagged other teachers to share stories about teachers who influenced them, and I’ve been enjoying reading those posts (you can find links to the response posts in the comments at the bottom of Shelly’s original post). I sort of invited myself to the party by commenting about a teacher who inspired me, and Shelly was gracious enough to invite this party crasher to join the group
I never wanted to be anything but a teacher.
(In the spirit of self-disclosure, I admit to wanting to be a stewardess for about 2 weeks after a field trip to the airport (it was the 70s, before “flight attendants”). The dream lasted someone explained minimum height requirements, and I realized that I’d be lucky to end up tall enough to ride the big kid rides at Disneyland, let alone tall enough to manage overhead bins.)
If someone had come up with a crystal ball and told me that I’d end up teaching English as a foreign language, and living nearly half my life outside my home country, I’d have thought it was a great joke. However, looking back at what I learned from the great educators in my life, the path becomes easier to see.
Mrs. Helms was my 5th and 6th grade teacher. In the 1960s, Anaheim was experimenting with a pilot program called Mentally Gifted Minors, and I was one of the guinea pigs. Mrs. Helms taught me that what your teacher thinks of you is more important than the truth of your abilities. Even though I couldn’t build a model rocket to save my life, and was as uninterested in Math as it was in me, she made me feel brilliant. Years before it was popular, Mrs. Helms believed that all children were geniuses in different ways. She did such a good job of making me believe that I was extraordinary that I was quite surprised, years later, when I requested my records and discovered just how ordinary I actually was (on paper).
My Aunt Ronda was the first teacher I saw buying classroom supplies out of her own small paycheck. She taught in the bilingual program in one of the poorest elementary schools in East L.A. She taught me that all students deserve a teacher who thinks the best of them, and who doesn’t think she’s doing them a big favor by being in the classroom.
In high school I discovered public speaking and debate. Kim Simmons, my speech teacher and debate coach, taught me that learning to communicate well is one of the most important skills a person can develop. Her lessons also had practical benefit–learning to speak in public helped me with the interviews that helped get the scholarships that allowed me to attend college. It’s not something that my family could have afforded.
During high school I discovered that I really enjoyed language. As I only managed one well, it made sense to become an English teacher.
Bob Martin taught rhetoric and communication analysis at Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University). Professor Martin introduced me to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and I’ve had a major crush on the trio ever since. He taught me that all teaching is communication. We use our experience and skill as teachers to choose the best means to communicate our message (our subject, or the point of our lesson) to our audience (our students). Teaching as a form of problem solving really appealed to me. In order to have a lot of teaching options in order to choose the best for each particular student, learning how to teach is just as important as learning what to teach. Teachers never stop being students.
Fast forward to graduate school. The MA TESOL program at Northern Arizona University is where I met Dr. Gina Cantoni, the professor I mentioned in the comments on Shelly’s blog. By the time I met Dr. Cantoni, she already spoke seven languages, including Navajo and Hopi (English was either language 4 or 5). The Native American languages came from her work with bilingual teachers trying to preserve tribal languages. She spent a lot of time on the road, traveling to schools on various reservations to do teacher training (no e-learning). She taught me that great teachers are measured not by what they get out of their profession, but what they give back.
So, these are some of the educators who influenced me. How about you? If you haven’t been tagged, but would like to share, please do! You can leave a comment here, or on Shelly’s blog, or write an entire post on your own blog if you like. It’s a wonderful exercise for this time of year, when it’s natural for us to reflect and remember times past, and to say thanks to those who have made our lives richer. Thanks, Shelly, for putting out this challenge!
P.S. I know blog posts don’t usually have book lists, but since many of Dr. Cantoni’s papers are now online, I thought you might enjoy reading about some of her work with teaching indigenous languages.