History and French: the Best and Worst

My single most positive experience as a student came out of an essay I wrote for my grade eleven history class.  I received a mark of 76% – the lowest mark I’ve ever been given on an essay.  I was deeply hurt and ashamed of that mark.  I was a high-achieving students, and up until that point every teacher I’d ever had loved my work inside and out.  As far as I was concerned, I was sixteen years old and the model of academic perfection, people.  Teachers did not criticize me.

…But this history teacher did.  I hated him for it, at first.  My next essay, I worked my butt off just to spite him, and was given a grudging 82%.  Again, unacceptable – and again, I could do nothing but work even harder.  My next mark? 87%.  It was by no means the best mark I’d ever had in a class, but I was flying on that 87%.  I’d never had a teacher push me so hard before.  I spent most of that year and the next wishing I could have him as an English teacher – or, better yet, Creative Writing – so that he could beat the rest of my writing into shape, as well.  I craved the kind of teacher who expected absolutely nothing less than my very best.  Knowing that I’d succeeded in giving him that was the best feeling in the world.

My worst experience as a student came a couple of years before that, in my grade nine French class.  My teacher in that class…well, she hated teaching.  And I mean hated it, to the depths of her soul.  One day we were doing an exercise where we were given a sentence with a blank space and we had to fill it in with the appropriate French word.  We were going around the class reading out our answers to what career we wanted when we grew up.  A girl sitting two seats behind me answered, “I want to be a teacher.” (In French, of course…but that was five years ago.  I don’t remember much of anything from that class.)

Our teacher just stood there at the front of the classroom for a moment, her face suffused with shock and disgust, before saying, “WHY?” like the idea left a bad taste in her mouth.

My classmate did not answer.  None of us said anything.  I was a little scared.  I thought her head might explode, or else she would start to spit venom.  The girl two seats behind me sank down in her seat a little and we continued with the worksheet.

Now, not everyone is suited to teaching.  Miss French Teacher had clearly just gotten to the end of her rope, which I cannot really be upset with her for.  The fact remains, however, that that was the most miserable year of French classes I had ever had.

How about you people?  Give it a shot: tell us all what your best and worst experiences as a student were.

What Do You Believe?

A lot of people believe a lot of different things about learning.  Last semester in ECS100, one of our lecturers gave us a whole slideshow of learning and education quotes from various people, most of whom were dead.  It was lovely and gave us a lot of important/intelligent/interesting/unique opinions on education.  However, I feel that sometimes we get too caught up in what other people think and believe, and as teachers that is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.  If we can’t think original thoughts, how can we expect creativity and curiosity from our students?

As someone who spent her childhood collecting quotes, I know I sometimes had difficulty finding my own words.  I’d think of something I wanted to say, and then think, “Oh – but this person said it so much better!”

Well, today is about eloquence.  It’s about OUR words, OUR beliefs, and OUR knowledge.

As a teacher, what is your most firmly held belief about teaching, education, knowledge, or learning?  If your teacher-y soul was stripped down to its bare threads and bones, what would we find carved into your core?  If you had to throw away every single thought and idea about learning EXCEPT ONE, which one would you keep?

This is mine:
The only think more precious than knowledge is the people who carry it, find it, desire it, hate it, want it, and need it.  My students are more precious, more priceless, more infinitely beautiful and full of potential, than anything in the universe, no matter how much they do or do not learn from me and my peers.

What Will YOU Do?

As a student, I witnessed that not many students excelled in/cared about/wanted to pursue a career in art.  Oh, they enjoyed the projects for the most part, and did their best in class, but for most students art was an ‘easy credit’.  As someone who plans to teach art, that’s pretty much the definition of unacceptable to me.  I’m under no illusions that my classes will produce hundreds of little artistic geniuses, but my hope is that I can make art more than an easy path to graduation for my students.

I believe that learning art is like learning a universal language: it can help you communicate with just about anyone.  I personally follow the work of artists from America, Brazil, Russia, Korea, Denmark, Japan, India, Switzerland, and a hundred other places – painters, digital artists, sketch artists, photographers, fashion designers, comic artists, storybook illustrators – you name it.  The internet is instrumental in this, of course, but the fact remains that the common language there is ART.  And that is one h*** of a beautiful language.  I don’t think there is anything better than being able to teach that language to children.

Because of that, I essentially have only two simple goals as a teacher.
1. I want my students to be better artists when they leave my class than when they started.
2. I want my students to feel that art, in whatever form they desire, can be a part of their lives even if they don’t pursue it as a career.

So here’s the part where this is relevant to you: most people become teachers because a) they love their subject, and/or b) they love and want to help kids.  But we talk about why we want to teach in general all the time.  My question for you people out there is: why do you think it’s important to teach the specific subjects you intend to teach?  Why did you choose your major/minor?  Why do you feel it’s important to contribute that knowledge to your students’ future lives?

Why do you, or will you, matter as a teacher?