The first full week in May is always looked forward to by my teacher friends and me, mostly, lets be honest, because of the free and discounted food we can partake in. However, it’s also a time when the people in our lives (hopefully) slow down and take a moment to thank us for a normally thankless job.
Today, in my 6th year of being a recipient of the nations’ gratitude on this lovely day, I am sipping a glass of wine and reflecting on my own list of teachers who have shone their light on my little life and given me some guideposts on how I should strive to be the best teacher I can be.
There was Mr. Wilhelm, a big, no-fucks-given English teacher who wore pajama pants to school and taught a Shakespeare class. He was a great teacher because he was truly himself. He didn’t censor who he was in the classroom, and we could tell that he genuinely had a passion for what he taught and that he knew his shit. He didn’t beat around the bush with his opinions, and he allowed us to be ourselves in his class.
Lesson: To be a good teacher, be yourself.
Then there was Mrs. Bren, the other high school English teacher. She was more reserved and had a no nonsense air about her. She also knew her stuff, and we all respected her even if the work was difficult. I remember that for graduation she gave each of us a metal bookmark with an inspirational quote and a small personalized note, and even though I never had a super tight personal bond with her, it made me feel special.
Lesson: To be a good teacher, do the little things.
Another teacher I had was Ms. Jablonski, our band director. She was strict, and often scolded us for not practicing at home (guilty as charged). She was close to a select group of students (of whom I was secretly jealous) but even though their bond was obvious she never neglected the rest of the band, and made sure that she was constantly pushing for excellence. Looking back, I really regret not putting in the work to reach those standards, because she truly had a drive for excellence and intolerance for anything less, and if I had allowed her ambitions to rub off on me, I would have been a hell of a lot better player and a better person, to boot.
Lesson: To be a good teacher, have sky high standards and never let them be compromised.
Another teacher who was incredible was Mr. Hilgren. I remember all of the presidents from 1900 and on because he brought his guitar into class and had us sing a song he made up with all of their names. In our AP European history class, we had a “wine” and cheese party where we met different people or groups from the time period we were studying. And for the Vietnam war, we went outside and pelted each other with socks, sticking true to the battle’s outcome.
Lesson: To be a good teacher, have innovative and memorable lessons.
Lastly, another teacher, who I cringe to remember, was Mr. Archer. He was a brand-new teacher my senior year, and I was really quite terrible to him. I have no idea why now; perhaps I sensed weakness, perhaps he embodied something I didn’t like about myself, or perhaps I just wanted to leave my mark on an otherwise seemingly colorless high school existence. I remember talking shit behind his back, refusing to do the work the way he wanted it done, and talking back in class (never completely crossing the line, but always toeing it heavily). I don’t ever remember him completely losing it with me, even though I would have deserved it, and when I see the things he does with his students now, I applaud how selfless and dedicated he is to making the world a better place.
Lesson: To be a good teacher, let your actions speak for themselves and don’t let the brats get you down.
Going through the school system, for better or worse, is a quintessential experience that nearly every single human in a first world country undergoes. Our classmates help us make memories, but our teachers help us blossom into our true selves. The most valuable thing that a teacher can bring to the table , in my humble opinion, is their true, authentic self. This shows the hundreds of lives we touch that being 100% YOU is the best thing that you can ever do, and makes for a happy and healthy human being. And if every person who walks into a classroom is influenced towards happiness and health, the world can continue to get better.
So, cheers to all of the teachers who helped shaped me into who I am today, in ways both big and small. I hope you know that you are appreciated and above all, that what you do matters: every month, every week, every day. It is a heavy burden, but one that, if I am looking at my own teachers as examples, I am confident is in capable hands, and one that I am honored to carry.
Thank you, teachers! We need you. ❤