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  • Lance Mannion
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Ah, Lance ...
We're all gonna reminisce about our favorite teachers.
I'll merely name names of my third through fifth grade teachers, plus a high school journalism/English teacher:
Mrs. Watson
Mrs. Hughart
Mr. Johnson
Gene Thompson

I love 'em all, especially the late Miz T. Damn, I miss her. And you know what? Not once, during college or after, did I visit or call her to show her that I turned out OK and I was succeeding in the journalism field and I appreciated her immensely. Too late now.


Wow. The statistics tell the story. Lucky kids who had Mrs. D.

Mrs. Weisner will never be forgotten.


I had several teachers like that in high school. I wrote about one of them here, and damned if he didn't Google himself and write me a thank-you note a year or so later.

There's a nice ode to teachers in that post, too.

Congratulations to the newly-graduated and certificated!


Warmest congratulations to Oliver and his proud parents!

Ken Muldrew

So what makes a great teacher?

The social aspect is pretty important; someone that the kids love to be around. In fact, thinking back to a particularly good teacher that my youngest daughter had in grade 5, the parents loved talking to him just as much as the students, during parent-teacher interviews and other school functions. If a kid loves to be around someone, and they are primarily learning while they're around that person, then perhaps the kid develops a love of learning.

A basic level of competence is necessary, but I don't think a high level of competence is very important, even at the higher levels. It earns respect from the kids who are at the top of the class, but it doesn't really add to a teacher's status as a "teacher". After all, those kids can usually figure out where to find supplemental information on their own. If the teacher can spark an interest in something that is not part of the curriculum, and guide the student in learning about that topic, then they get credit for being a great teacher (here I'm thinking of a teacher in high school who helped me to learn how to program in APL, back in the 70s, when computers weren't that common).

Competence at the lower levels is pretty much a given, at least for a sane curriculum, and probably irrelevent for an insane curriculum. I'm pretty sure that my grade 3 teacher had no idea as to why she was teaching us the basics of set theory and I'm equally sure that it would have made no difference even if she did. Nobody is going to be able to explain the Bourbaki philosophy to grade 3 kids.

Does a good teacher lay a clever trap for the student? Is there some element of leading the kid through some circuitous path, where every step seems natural and unthreatening (and even enjoyable), only to end up at a location that would have been unthinkable to the student had they known at the beginning where all this was leading? A teacher who goads and shames a student to do something that the student doesn't want to do is easily recognizable as a poor teacher. Yet a good teacher also leads students to read books that they were intent on rejecting, to tackle problems that they formerly found abhorent, and to learn things that they were sure they didn't want to learn. Is a good teacher like a good cross-examiner, but leading with benevolence rather than malice?

Is there a difference between a great teacher where we have a formal pedagogy (such as can be taught to a class) and situations where we don't really know how an expert practitioner becomes an expert (so teaching is done through a master-apprentice relationship). Here a high level of competence is a given (at least the practitioners have a diploma to certify their competence) but there are still substantial differences between good and bad teachers. One also sees, at least on occasion, a pairing of student and teacher that prods them both to learn much more than they would otherwise (here I'm thinking primarily about profs and grad students, but maybe this occurs in the trades and other apprentice-based learning programs as well).

Finally, can we teach someone to be a great teacher? Personally I think we should make their apprenticeship much longer, and be more selective about who gets to serve as master, but that's mainly because I don't know what it is that makes a great teacher (and so hubris compels me to think that other people don't know either, and therefore that it can't be formally taught to classes of education students).

Tom C

Your son and his classmates were very lucky. I had my own Mrs. D. in fourth grade -- well, actually, "Mrs. E." to be more precise -- and at the end of the year, she announced she'd be leaving fourth teach us in fifth grade. I'm not sure if it was that she liked us so much or that they were just moving around some teachers. Either way, our whole class went nuts.


What a lovely post. The teachers who come to my mind were my sons'. Mrs. Donohue, Grade 8 for son the elder; Rahini, History teacher to the younger, who called him "Little Brother". Difficult to know who loved her more, my son, or me.

My younger son had his nose in a book from the minute he could read. He used to accompany me on walks to the grocery store to help me carry bags. He would hold onto my sleeve so that he could walk while reading. Wow, he was sure great company! He called my rule about no reading at the dinner table "draconian". When he was eight. And holy wow, was he ever a nerd. Perhaps his self-image was strengthened by the fact that he played baseball and hockey rather well. But you couldn't tell that when he was coming home on the bus. By the time he got to high school, he told me that he couldn't read on the bus anymore because he was afraid of being beaten up.

What the hell is THAT all about?

Ken Muldrew

Hysperia, you could give him Al Swearengen's pep talk, "Pain or damage don't end the world. Or despair, or fucking beatings. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man... and give some back."

Or you could just suggest that he go to the library and read for half and hour and take a later bus where he can continue his book in peace.


Wow! Congratulations to Oliver and you/The Blonde. That's really something to be proud of. Good kids are such a treat. And good for him for not letting peer pressure dictate to him.

8 out of 14 is not a statistically significant difference re boys vs. girls, but I suspect you know that.

Molly, NYC

You are forwarding this post to Mrs. D., right?

Kevin Wolf

Teachers are never appreciated as much as they should be. Well, usually. You've done a fine job of it here.

Congrats to Oliver and Mrs D.


Robert Blevins, 8th grade 1958/59.
Irma B. Wilson, freshman English 1959/60.
Raymond Chavira, sophomore English and Spanish 1960/61.

These people had more positive influence on my life than any other people on earth. I'll be 62 years old in a few weeks and I still remember every minute I spent with them.

Oliver will never forget the name or the face or the voice or the words of Mrs. D. Teachers like that become ingrained in your plasma forever. He's a lucky kid to have known her.


Congratulations Oliver! He's lucky to have a teacher like Mrs. D for so long!


You'll cherish Mrs. D forever yourself.

My mom's house was squashed by a tree last fall, and it was finally pulled down last week. When I talked to Mom about the final destruction, her biggest worry was that she hadn't found a particularly lovely note from my 6th grade teacher.

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