Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Teacher's Influence

President Obama said this week that any budget that sacrifices a commitment to education is a budget that sacrifices our future.

Education in our country is in a real crisis right now. The cuts in the House Republican budget to education would be devastating for teachers, students, and families -- costing 55,000 jobs, slashing financial aid for 8 million college kids, and dropping hundreds of thousands from Head Start, an early-education program proven to help low-income children graduate high school.

While I was driving to the doctor yesterday, I listened to an NPR program which addressed some of problems with education in the United States.  The commentator posed the following question to his guest and to the listening audience:

Who made a difference in your life?

The discussion, of course, was referring to teachers, counselors, coaches and mentors.  It was suggested that most people can't think of three teachers who made a difference in their lives, that there a lot of really bad teachers out there.

I started thinking. There are many really great teachers, also. (Example, see my previous post.)

Unfortunately, I can barely think of the names of my teachers, let alone remember anything they taught me.  But I kept thinking, even as the ENT doctor squirted purple dye in my infected ear.

Who WAS the first teacher whose influence I remember? There's no contest, I recall his name without a hitch.

Crestview Elementary - Sixth Grade - 1961
Teacher - Gary Elliott (on the left) - I'm the shy one (NOT). Second from the left, front row

Halfway through the sixth grade I was transferred to a brand new school closer to my home. My teacher, Mr. Elliott, was my first male teacher and I was instantly smitten. Seriously. He had dreamy blue eyes and the cutest smile.

He liked me, too.  He sent me on errands, let me take the roll, and even correct spelling tests.  (I obviously needed to stay busy. Did I have ADHD? My son certainly did.)  Mr. Elliott gave me confidence in myself, because he trusted me and knew I was capable.  He saw that I loved math (arithmetic) and was good at it.  I'd finish the assignments quickly, so he decided to gave me algebra problems to keep me occupied. It was great fun.

Kids called me "Teacher's Pet" and I was sure I was. I don't think I've ever felt so good about myself.

Thinking back on it now, Mr. Elliott had a gift.  He was a wonderful teacher who made ALL kids feel important.  We knew he cared about us.  That was so much more important than the subjects he taught us.

Thank you for loving children, Mr. Elliott!

Junior High is a complete blur to me. I only remember two teachers' names and NOT for good reasons. 

Gym class.  Taking showers. Undressing and dressing in front of everyone. Very traumatic.  In the showers, our teacher would check us individually (made us take off the towel--yikes) to see if we were wet all over.  Even at thirteen I knew that was weird.  Creepy.

My history teacher used to talk about Jayne Mansfield, Roslyn Russell and Marilyn Monroe all the time. He said all the girls in our class only cared about boys and we all wanted to grow-up to be like Mansfield to get boyfriends.  We didn't know who or what he was talking about. (My older sister told me it was about Big Boobs and that our teacher was nasty.)  Totally creepy.

I had better luck in High School.  This is my tribute to four teachers who made BIG differences in my life.  The rest of the teachers. . .sorry, I don't recollect your names.

Mr. Minson was another teacher with killer looks.  He made biology fun. Along with his wit and charm, he was intelligent.  He challenged us.  At the end of the year, he wrote in my yearbook that I was his most challenging student! He said I was extremely intelligent and hoped I would use it to the benefit of mankind.  Wow, there's a challenge. He made it possible for me to get an A in my college biology class.

Did I become a scientist? No, but my teacher made me feel I could if I wanted to.

Thank you for showing me science is cool, Mr. Minson!

I only took drama for half a year from Holly Smith.  At first, I was timid (moi?) while doing improv or plays in front of the class, but Mrs. Smith saw something in me that I didn't know was there.  She helped me bloom.  Because of her, I received a First Place in the district Drama Contest for my humorous reading from Tom Sawyer.  Holly made winners of everyone she taught.

Thank you for helping me have confidence, Mrs. Smith!

Another Smith teacher, this time Clyde Smith, taught me to draw.  Or rather, he made me realize I had the ability to observe and render.  I enjoyed his class more than any other.  Sketching was "down" time to me.  Did I ever use my art? No, but I think I have applied creativity in other ways.

Thank you for helping me observe, Mr. Smith!

My senior year I was a student body officer.  Pat Farrell was new at Olympus and took the place of a very beloved SBO advisor, Sanky Dixon.  We cried when we heard Sanky was  retiring and wasn't going to advise us.  But Pat (or Mrs. Farrell when other teachers were around) instantly became one of us, one with us.  She made our tasks seem like play.  She wrote in my yearbook, "Sheri, I have never met anyone so alive, so aware as you.  People always know where they stand . . .You are the most capable person I've met. . .You will be a success at anything you do."  I know she said the same thing to the other officers, but it didn't matter. She believed in me. It brings a tear to my eye now, because we never had a relationship after June 1967.

Thank you, Pat, for treating us like
adults and for letting us be kids!

It all went downhill in college where professors didn't know my name, let alone my thoughts, feelings and ideas.  I was lost in the crowds.

However, because I had interests in many diverse areas, I decided to major in Child Development with my eye on teaching preschool children (my favorite age).  Preschool incorporates all fields of knowledge.  In those tender, early years when each experience is brand new, children are sponges and want to learn everything.  They have so much to teach adults about discovery and living life to the fullest. 

Why can't learning be this fun our whole life?

Teaching takes so much energy and creativity that good teachers burn out far too soon. They deserve far more credit and money than our society gives them. Teachers are the builders of the future, trite as it sounds. I have nothing but admiration for them.  Pat a teacher on the back today.

What teacher influenced you?


Arkansas Patti said...

Loved this post. I am a huge fan of teachers and only had a few clunkers.
The ones I remember the most are the ones that challenged and appreciated me the most.
Too many for a comment but thanks for making me remember them.

Tracy said...

Thank you for visiting my blog...and gosh, interesting that your Grandpa died on St. Patrick's Day as well. I know you thought of him yesterday as I did mine.

Now, onto your question; I had a lot of teachers who made a difference in my life because well, I just did. In fact, the book that is being published as we speak...I am acknowledging my English teacher in high school who I gave my earliest poetry. She'd comment on it but more than that, she gave me a forum to express myself without judgment.
thank you Sheri!

Penelope Potts said...

Thanks for this, Sheri. It brought back memories of all the wonderful teachers in my life!

Heidika said...
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lauridawn said...

My 15-year-old daughter decided to google her grandfather, Clyde Smith, last night and found your blog. What a treat to find such a kind tribute to a man I adore, but that my children never got to know - except through stories. I can't wait to share your post with my mother and siblings. I've haven't had time to read your entire blog yet, but you sound like someone I'd like to know. We live near Crestview Elementary (where my kids got a great education) and I keep wondering if we might have mutual acquaintances. Also, my dad frequently mentioned students at home - maybe you were one of them. Thank you for making my day!
Sincerely, Lauri Smith Glauser

Cline Family said...

Love this post!! You don't know me, but my Dad is Clyde Smith, your HS Art teacher! How special it was to read your thoughts about my Daddy! He's been gone since 1981. My niece googled his name and your blog came up! I'm glad he was a favorite teacher for you!

Sydni Smith Cline

Nina said...

Sheri, Clyde Smith is my husband, and you made my day with your kind tribute to his influence on your high school years. My granddaughter simply googled his name to see what would happen and found your blogspot. What a wonderful surprise! It has now been sent to all our children. Thank you for a sweet moment for all of us.
Carroll Smith (now Wolstenholme)

Michemily said...

Cool! Clyde Smith was my grandpa!

Amy said...

Clyde Smith was my grandfather, and though he died when I was just a baby, it's nice to know that his students appreciated and remember him. Thanks for posting.

Marci said...


Thanks for your thoughts on teachers. One of your teachers was my dad, Clyde Smith. He died in a drowning accident in 1981. I was pregnant with my first child so none of my children ever got to know him. I, myself, am not an artist but I loved his creativity. He could do anything! It is nice to know that he had an impact on people. I am now a professor at the U of U and I hope I can do better in that category than your experience. I know every student's name each semester and I hope each day as I drive to campus that I can make a difference. Thanks so much for your thoughts on my dad. It was so nice to see! Marci Butterfield

Marci said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.