Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Imperfect teachers

Blogger Marcia at the blog “Well Aged with Some Marbling” had a thoughtful – and entertaining – post here on the power of the imperfect teacher. She writes about the differences among teachers, including herself, and the cumulative impact of their strengths, weaknesses and teaching methods on students.

I was reminded of a colleague who was ready to request that her daughter be moved to another class. The daughter’s elementary teacher had not kept parents in the loop when the child’s behavior had required disciplinary measures. Plus, this mom was not impressed with the teacher’s classroom skills. The same teacher had taught my son several years earlier, and the mom asked what I thought. My advice: “Give it until after Christmas. You may just be amazed at what happens.”

Sure enough, when we returned to work after the Christmas holidays, my colleague reported her daughter was hooked on reading. I think the word that came up in our conversations was “miracle.” That teacher had a gift for ferreting out what grabbed the attention of my son, my colleague’s daughter, and I assume her other students as well. She had whetted their appetites in class. She sent them home for the Christmas break with a special gift – easy-to-read books about their special interests, books of their own that they could not put down.

My colleague and I were both thankful for that teacher. She lit the fire of my son’s love of reading, a fire that still burns brightly nearly three decades later. The “Thank you, God” list is a long one of imperfect teachers who contributed perfectly to the course of my life and the lives of my children. 

I have been out of day-to-day contact with the elementary and secondary education scene for more than a decade. But from what I hear and observe, admittedly from afar, the days are gone when most parents supported their children’s teachers.

These days the attitude seems more likely to be “My child can do no wrong, so if there is a problem the teacher, school, coach, society must be wrong.” The result is that many students miss out on what teachers have to offer because their parents are convinced that the teacher is not as skilled, fair or warm and fuzzy as they should be.

Has anyone else observed this change, or am I just being an old grouch?


  1. Well, I have always supported a teacher's constructive criticism and usually went along with their actions. But there are bad teachers out there, my son had one in junior high. At the beginning of the year, having heard bad things about this teacher, we went to the principal and requested that they assign our son to a different teacher, but he talked us out of it. We were right in the end, the man was horrible and should not have been teaching. He also threw things. But I think almost that every child sufferes from at least one bad teacher in their life, and that may not be a bad thing. They will have to learn how to deal with diffucult things all their lives. School, like life, is not a bed of roses.

  2. After having worked in education for over 15 years, I can tell you first-hand that your observations are "right on the money".

  3. I've never met a parent who didn't want the best for his or her child. Sometimes she doesn't know how to ask for that or how to best help her child, but she does want it. Thanks for sharing my posting, Friend.

  4. The desire to place blame anywhere but on ourselves seems to fuel this trend.
    I read Marcia's post and was impressed also.
    The teachers I remember fondly were not the warm fuzzy ones, but the ones that held my feet to the fire and made me advance in knowledge and as a person.
    The teacher you described was a true blessing to her students.

  5. Marcia, your comment shows another side of you that makes you a great teacher. Just like you look for what your students are best at, you start with the assumption that parents want what is best for their child. You are teaching the parents, too. And I suspect it is not just how to articulate their desire for what is best, but also subtle lessons on how to discern what is best from what is toxic for their child.

    Ginny, thanks for bringing a perspective on helping a child deal with a less than stellar teacher.

    Kathy, you and I evidently have encountered similar types of parents. I think I would benefit from adopting Marcia's attitude. What about you? Anyway, I did appreciate the company in my spell of grouchiness!

    Patti, I agree. The teachers who demanded the most were the ones who opened my eyes and worked hard at prying open my closed mind.

  6. I am just beginning this trek, as my son is only in first grade, but already I see the impact a good teacher can have. He was assigned a "new" teacher this school year - one that had been out of the system for 8-10 years to raise a family and decided to re-enter the arena. I was worried that she would be rusty or out of practice. Turns out she's the best of the five there. She never yells or shouts, yet the kids listen and respect her. Her love of books has rubbed off on all of them, and my son's reading skills have soared as a result. She also implemented a reading comprehension Penny Store concept, where the kids get pennies for correctly answering all five questions related to a book or story they read the night before or in class. The pennies (as they add up) can be traded for nickels, dimes and quarters and can then be used at her Penny Store to buy trinkets. This has been a big hit and a big success - no other 1st grade class is doing such intensive RC tests, so my son and his classmates are ahead of the curve. And the best part is that she made it fun to learn. What I thought would be a detriment turned out to be a blessing, and I learned something this year - that a good teacher is always a good teacher.

  7. Teaching is a tough job and sometimes what kids need is tough love. Sounds like your friend found a good teacher for her child. Two of my kids are teachers, so I tend to feel for the teahers.