Remember the excitement of back-to-school? Getting your teacher assignments, supplies, figuring out if your best buddies were in the same class as you? Wondering if you’d like the teacher? Years (decades) later, we remember a few of those teachers who made a difference. For good or for bad.
That’s a universal experience. It bonds us—just like the memory of the smell of mimeograph paper and the feel of the paper-bag book covers for those of us that went to school in the 60s and 70s.
How to Tell Stories of Teachers who Made a Difference
Start with Your Own Story
It’s only partially about the teacher. It’s about you as well. Start with your story. What kind of kid were you? What kind of student were you? How do you think your teacher viewed you? Were you the book-worm nerd? The class clown? The misfit? The kid that didn’t fit the racial or ethnic norm?
For instance, in ASCD’s Educational Leadership Online Magazine’s Tell Me About … The Teacher Who Made the Difference, Judi Mireles writes “Mrs. Harvey … made every student feel like the most important person in the room …” But it was Ms. Mireles’ own story of family and financial problems that explains how Mrs. Harvey became one of those teachers who made a difference. She supported Ms. Mireles through tough times and became a life-long friend.
Help Readers’ Visualize Your Teacher
Describe the teacher—not just hair color, height and weight, but in terms that will help your readers visualize what the way the younger-you saw him or her. Did she wear glasses balanced on top of her head? Did he pace? Did he or she keep a police whistle handy? Have an odd body-shape that caused you to wonder how his or her legs held the torso and head up? A hairdo that must have taken hours, if not weeks, to assemble?
How did this Teacher Make a Difference?
What makes this particular teacher stand out in your memory? What did he or she do differently? Was it the way he or she treated you? Or was it the way she treated everyone?
Perhaps a teacher had a different way of looking at you. Or perhaps it was the intangibles the teacher taught you along with the “3 Rs.” Maybe they taught you to care about your work, your fellow students, or your country.
The extremely lucky among us had a teacher that helped us envision something different for our life. In the same ASCD article, Jacquelyn Drummer, now an educator herself, remembers her teacher telling her “You can and you will go to college—and I will help you make it happen.” Wow. Stories like that beg to be shared.
Not all Rainbows and Ponies
One bad apple can spoil—or at least leave a lasting mark—on a bunch of kids. Did your teacher do clueless things like hold up a Ziploc bag of pill bottles on field trips and bellow for the “ADD kids” to come get their meds? (Yep. Even in good school districts, there’s an occasional anomaly.)
What happened? Why did it bother you? What kind of mark did that leave?
Why do you think the teacher was like that? As much as readers like an antagonist, they love a complicated one. Were they mean or just Insensitive? Clueless? Jaded?
For instance, my son had a high school teacher who’d spent years working with students in impoverished areas all over the world. He should have been a great, caring teacher. However, when he landed in a relatively prosperous community, his mission became to bring the over-privileged suburbanites down a notch or two. He reveled in trick questions, marking off for “ball” instead of “sphere,” and public humiliation of those who thought they knew the answers.
Bring your story all the way to the present. Have you ever gotten to a place of understanding that teacher? Does that experience affect how you deal with your children’s teachers and school administrators?
Now get started. You know teachers and how they like their assignments turned in!