Tuesday, July 29, 2014


"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel."

                                                                 Maya Angelou

      Ms.  Angelou's quote could be a discouraging thought for any teacher who has stood in the front of the room carrying on about isosceles triangles or the use of passive voice.

    We think we're up there to impart information, but sadly, our students don't arrive with hinges on their skulls like a Monty Python cartoon, ready to have their heads tipped open and the facts poured in. So, yes, they will more than likely forget what we said. 

     And unless, like a former colleague of mine who used to pile up all the classroom desks to mimic World War I trench warfare, they'll probably also forget what we did.

People will not forget how we made them feel.

This is why teachers wield such a fearful power, something it took me a couple of years to realize.

We scan the room with a radar-like sweep, noting who's texting, who's awake, who's about to jab the person in front of him with a strategically sharpened pencil, and all the while our mouth is going, trying to plow through that day's material before the next interruption from the office. While we're peering over our reading glasses, droning on about the characteristics of the tragic hero, we sometimes forget that at least half of the room is staring back at us and thinking.

No, not about the tragic hero, but about us, the teachers.

A teenager lifts his eyes to return our gaze and instead of experiencing an epiphany over the karma of Oedipus or indecision of Hamlet, he instead wonders how old we are, do we have kids, and whether or not we dye our hair. Unburdened by the distraction of the lesson, kids develop powerful skills of observation and really see teachers for what we are.

I can't remember a thing from 5th grade at Patrick Henry Elementary School except my favorite teacher, Mr. Sargent, and the fact that I liked him and he was kind to me. Mrs. Rappaport, my 10th grade homeroom teacher, exuded a kind of no-nonsense warmth, (although I do recall the dressing-down she gave to the odious Larry, a very vocal John Bircher).

A sweet girl from another class stopped by my room the period I had one of my more challenging groups. These were 12th graders, some old enough to vote, and prior to their arrival I always made sure that my purse was safely locked away, along with anything else remotely portable. My greatest mission each day was to keep them awake but also in their seats.

My visitor was Shaniqua, an 11th grade honor student.  She bounced in to drop off a late essay, wearing her usual friendly smile and expecting to find the same easygoing atmosphere she was used to in her class with me. She took one look at my stance at the front of the room, my mouth set in a grim line, my knuckles white as I gripped the podium, and whispered, “You don’t like this class much, do you Miss?”

In my defense, three years after retiring I’m still getting Facebook requests from past students.



  1. I was quite the tomboy in Jr. High. I never wore dresses or skirts. One day I wore this hideous brown corduroy wrap-a-round skirt. My 7th grade teacher, Mr. I, slipped me a little note. It said, "You look neat."

    Probably inappropriate in today's world, but I will never forget that. He was a kind man.

  2. What a sweet man. There are more moments like that in an ordinary school day than people realize.

  3. As a retired teacher what you say makes great sense. My favorite assignment was to take those 12 rascals and go completely off the curriculum.

  4. 12? This was a disgruntled group of 29, some of whom had already been through the court system. :)

  5. I remember my chemistry teacher. final exam and I had Ds all the way through the semester and had to pass my final exam to pass and I knew there was no way in hell I was going to pass that test. everyone else in the class had finished and turned their paper in but I was determined to take every last minute. One of my problems was I never could learn to work the slide rule properly so I was doing all the calculations. finally, the teacher came up to me (she was probably ready to go home) and asked me if I would settle for a D. Oh yes! thank you thank you. I was so relieved and grateful. she didn't even grade it, just put a D on the paper.

    1. Chemistry!! I had had no idea that science included so much math - oh, the horror.

  6. God bless ya. I can't imagine trying to deal with future criminal types on a daily basis.
    However I still remember, so many years later, those teachers who made me feel smart, nice or maybe for just having a good hair day. You do own the power.

    1. The sad thing was that while some of them were already pretty experienced criminals, there were some quiet, sweet kids there, too.

  7. You sound like a great teacher! I was the most bashful child in school, even through 12th grade. The only recognition I ever received was being voted quietest of the senior class. I remember more about my 6th grade teacher than any of the others. She called me peanut and pointed out to the others how quiet and well behaved I was. Don't know if this was a good thing or not. Probably not! :)

  8. Many years ago, I was a first grade teacher. I got the more tender moments- the tears because Mommy yelled at him or her before school, or the empty growling bellies because there was nothing to eat at home..the potty accidents, all the dreaded stomach bugs. Hugs and story times, naps, songs, ABCs and 123s. That was my daily world. If I had had to deal with cell phones, I most likely would have confiscated them all at the door and made the parents come and pick them up. I'm afraid my old-school ways would not work in today's classrooms. Bless you for what you do!

  9. A friend of mine - and fellow retired teacher - said just yesterday that she thought all first grade teachers should be put on a higher salary scale than other teachers because they work so much harder.


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