I think we all have that one teacher, that one unforgettable educator that made a profound difference in our lives and/or the lives of our children.
I would like to specifically acknowledge my sons’ junior high social studies teacher. I believe she has retired, or I would have personally written a thank you note to her.
This teacher was a favorite of most students. She was popular with parents, as well. She really seemed to understand and embrace the social dynamics of children of this age, and completely understood the community where she taught. She adored my younger son, not so much the elder. She was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
This teacher loved the popular kids, the ones who would eventually be high school cheerleaders and sports stars, the kids who ran the student council and newspaper. Much like the people of my hometown, she seemed to be able to embrace children with obvious differences and challenges. This acceptance, however, did not extend to square pegs. Extreme differences are accepted, slight deviations are not.
My elder son was and is a non-conformist and occasional contrarian who uses his patent-pending disdainful glare/eye roll to let everyone know he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and just who he thinks those fools are. (I have no idea from whence cometh these germs of his personality!) While his junior high peers were worried about Abercrombie clothing and being perceived as cool, he was watching C-Span coverage of Supreme Court nominations and reading Russian history books for fun. History and politics were his main intellectual interests, and by the time he was twelve, I believe he knew more about government and history than I, and I am a huge news and history nerd.
He was excited about his social studies class. Each topic his teacher brought up, he would listen. He would add ancillary information that he knew, and question if he disagreed with a statement, or correct her when her information was blatantly false. She realized his comprehension of the subject was accelerated, and he needed more challenge. And he irritated her. She sent him to the library every week to research and create a power point presentation for the subject she would be presenting in class the next week. He must have done a good job, as these presentations were still used three years later when my younger son took her class. Should he have been paid for his work? I don’t know, maybe we should consult an attorney.
I am a huge proponent of public schools, but I was coming to the realization that it was not the place for my elder son. Hubs and I called a meeting with all of my son’s teachers to discuss problems and issues. The principal breezed in after the meeting had started, referring to my son by his given name, which no one ever used. She insisted he was welcome and encouraged at his junior high school. I think his standardized test scores were welcome, he was not.
Ms. Social Studies started with a litany of negative comments about our son, and finished with “And I don’t think he is as smart as he thinks he is.” Wow. Mr. Science looked shocked, and stated “I don’t think he has even realized how intelligent he is as yet.” Thanks, Mr. Science, for speaking up when we were too stunned to reply to the assault.
Due to this social studies teacher, I immediately set out to find the right school for my son, and I did. Hello, Thomas Jefferson! It was filled with extremely intelligent, diverse and amazing kids and teachers, many square pegs themselves, never trying to fit into any hole, much less a round one. He was challenged intellectually, but most importantly, he learned that being different often means exceptional, in the true sense of the word.
I realize not everyone has the means to make this choice. Some students are stuck, thinking that different is bad, and there is something wrong with not fitting in. I implore all teachers to look around and seek out those students, and help them embrace their fantastic individuality. I encourage families to explore options; if their school is not a fit, look elsewhere. Many private schools offer scholarships. Or home school. Any alternative is better than allowing a child to think who they are intrinsically is a bad thing, because they are not exactly like their peers.
This weekend we will be attending my elder son’s graduation from Georgetown Law. This summer he is taking the bar exam, then spending a few weeks exploring Europe with his friends. In September he starts his job, where he interned last summer, with the Office Of Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives. These are the attorneys who research and write bills, making sure they are legal/constitutional. He received a fabulous education, has his dream job, and most importantly, is healthy and happy. I don’t think he would have ever achieved all of this if not for that junior high social studies teacher, so truly, thank you.
Yes, this teacher was an anomaly. Most teachers are amazing, dedicated, encouraging and compassionate. Most choose their vocation due to their love of children, education and society. Teaching, like parenting, is a noble endeavor.