School can be a peculiar place. Though lack of work reliably produces failure, having intelligence is no guarantee of satisfaction or success. Obviously there are multitudes of other factors that interfere with academic success, such as extremely bad family backgrounds, terrible neighborhoods, and dozens of other problems which I won’t tackle here. In retrospect, I, like many other children, probably would have been a great candidate for home schooling. Nonetheless, I would guess that most of us have a favorite teacher in our past, whether or not we enjoyed school. I would like to tell you about my favorite teacher, and I hope others will also pay tribute to the really great teachers that are out there!
Dear Mrs. Pelley, My Favorite Teacher,
I’m a grown man now, but I still remember what it was like having you as my third grade teacher.
This was at a time in my life that was confusing. In those early years, my restless mind and excitable personality would lead me to blurt out whatever thought came into my head, often without thinking first. This is a challenge for any teacher, most of whom would find it disruptive and do their best to stop it. My second grade teacher had resorted to marching me up to the front of the class and hitting me with a ruler. When we had a film to watch, she would make me sit right next to her so that she could control me more easily. I still remember the smell of her wretched perfume.
Punishment, though painful and humiliating, was not successful; I still wanted to talk to my neighbors, and couldn’t get myself to quit. Even during the short periods during which I wasn’t talking, feeling embarrassed and miserable wasn’t especially conducive to stellar productivity. Report cards were all consistent; “David does not work up to his potential”.
Somehow, all of that changed when I entered your class. Though we had regular classwork, you would devote some time to reading us stories. I can remember being spellbound during your readings. I recall a tear coming to my eye during the sad part of Charlotte’s Web. Your vivid readings were truly a gift.
Whereas most of my previous classes had seemed like long stretches of tedium punctuated by periods of sheer misery, this also changed in your class. We had reading units to complete, and after each successfully completed module, I could look forward to your reward of a candy bar. I worked as hard as I could, because I really wanted that candy.
On some level, it’s also likely that I wanted to impress you. As a result, I finished the entire reading series way before the rest of the class. So much for my being an academic failure, unable to produce at his potential. Some people would frown on this process (my own family didn’t believe in rewarding achievements in this way), but I sure enjoyed it, and it produced results.
My academic career after the third grade had its ups and downs until college. After all, other teachers, some of whom were quite good, rarely had your special combination of caring, ability to inspire, a willingness to reward achievement, a natural teaching gift, and a genuine affection for your students. Nonetheless, I believe that my great experiences in your class made me realize that learning could be constructive and enjoyable, even in school! So as time went on, I made significant strides forward in my education and life.
Dear Mrs. Pelley, I can’t thank you enough for how wonderfully you treated me, and for being an important influence in my life.