So, it's Teacher Appreciation Day (well, we celebrate the whole week at our school). So there are plenty of folks using #ThankATeacher on the Tweets and the Book of Faces to acknowledge the teachers who influenced them, and I guess I'm no different.
I had a number of great teachers. From my second grade teacher, Mrs. Zink, who always made a point to ask about me when she would run into my parents years later to my favorite college professors who challenged and encouraged me. I had math teachers that made math fun somehow. Well, other than Mr. Forseth. While I was in 10th grade Algebra 2, he literally patted me on the head and told me I'd never really need math, since I was a girl. That guy was a jerk.
But my other math and science teachers? They were amazing, encouraging, demanding, Mr. Murphy in 7th grade who got so annoyed at our class he stormed out (because we were being idiots, frankly), but still managed to make us all love life science so much that we looked forward to his class every day. Mr. Lodman who let us destroy things in chemistry just for the sheer joy of it. Mr. Bradley who made dissecting rats, worms and frogs more fun than it should have been. They all taught me to love exploration, testing ideas, proving them scientifically. Math and science classes folded so well together and made life interesting and explorable and detectable. To have teachers who were actually excited about those subjects and even more excited to share them with us was pretty powerful.
But the teachers who challenged me the most were my english teachers. There was Mrs. Murphy who was the first one to read one of my writings to the class (it was a descriptive writing exercise) so she could demonstrate the words I'd chosen. I'd never been singled out before like that, and that little bit of spotlight made me want to write more. Mrs. Gordon, who made me re-write so many papers, I assumed she hated my work. Finally, late in the year, she handed me back my paper on A Separate Peace, telling me that it was probably an A, but she wasn't going to accept it because I could do better. When I finally got exasperated and asked her to just "tell me what you want me to write," she responded with, "I want you to think for yourself." Mr. Bonawitz challenged us to expand our vocabularies, to think of Shakespeare in modern terms, to write like we meant it. He wasn't afraid to let us read things that might have been considered a bit too grown up or off color for us. He trusted us to teach one another, trusted us to get his jokes.
These teachers all shaped the way I think, the way I evaluate, the way I argue or present my ideas. They taught me to communicate my meaning. They taught me to take risks intellectually, but not just for the sake of being reckless. They let me make mistakes and showed me how those mistakes could become successes. I just wanted those A grades, they just wanted me to be a critical thinker. They told me stop telling them what they wanted to hear and start using my own voice. They empowered me to be, well, me.
I know I'm forgetting some of my favorite teachers, or just not mentioning them because I don't have time to list them all. But even so, I can't thank them all enough. You made me stronger, more thoughtful, more ambitious. You empowered me to be myself. For that, I sincerely cannot thank you enough.
Except for you, Mr. Forseth. Like I said earlier, you were a jerk.