Mrs. Fry, Mrs. Perez and the Mediocrity Between

It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others.  

–Mark Twain

What kind of teacher are you if you haven’t command of your subject?

A poor one.

Been contemplating teaching from both sides of the coin — as one who’s taught both native and non-native English speakers and been taught. My passion for education began in infancy and has not waned across the decades. “Very curious” teachers oft commented on report cards. To be curious is to be ever learning, growing and becoming.

We’ve all had ’em — singular teachers we remember long beyond formal education. We remember teachers who sucked and had no business in classrooms and exceptional teachers who knew their subjects inside out.

Between lies the Majority of Mediocrity.

Mrs. Fry – speech (arts) teacher. Mr. Spain – history. Mr. Kurtz – also history. Herr Witting – German.

Oh so different were their personalities yet each brought to the classroom a genuine passion for and command of their subjects.

And in the case of Mr. Spain, he taught not only how many fatalities occurred at any given battle — I can still see his numbers on the blackboard! — but you’d be tested on it!

Mrs. Perez – 7th-grade math. The Really Sucky instructor whose command of the subject might get a passing grade, in retrospect, but her personality did not suit the classroom. Not only that but she committed a terribly unfair act that catalyzed my father (also a keen proponent of education and adept thinking) into a private conference.

The matter got rectified but the damage was done. Mrs. Perez soured me on my own latent mathematical talents. I came to circumvent the subject as much as educational requirements permitted.

What kind of teacher are you if you haven’t command of your subject?

A poor one.

I profoundly hold that every teacher bears a responsibility — to the profession and above all the students. To be the best that you can be in your subject is more than a point of pride. It is the job and responsibility of teachers. You are serving the community, children, humankind in ways meaningful, profound and lasting.

Why would any teacher tolerate being sucky or even half-sucky? It’s a disservice to the minds and interests of students.

I’ve been told that I’m a very good teacher. Many reasons make it so. This is not a bragging point. On the contrary, I’m quite good at something I don’t aspire to do — and certainly not within this Western educational climate and society and attitudes and dumbing-down, ohmygawd the dumbing-down! I’m good at it but it’s not my calling to be in the classroom.

I’m continuously teaching outside the classroom, however! I don’t get paid obviously but being outside a school system offers a freedom essential to my nature and intelligence.

I concur with Twain. It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others.

But how can a teacher accomplish that if s/he is incompetent?

This post is dedicated to the two teachers who left indelible marks on my psyche and mind and memory:

Mrs. Fry — the best darn teacher! You not only knew the subject (speech arts) like the back of your hand but in your bring and cheerful disposition you knew how to bring out the best in students and make a terrifying subject (for most, not me) — writing and presenting speeches — fun.

Mrs. Perez – the blemish. Whether you were adept in the subject (math) is questionable; whatever your competency, it neither endeared me to you nor earned my respect. Your “bedside manner” really sucked. I remember feeling quite convoluted and dark in your classroom — so much so that it kinda put me off math for the remainder of my formal education.

I wish I could tell every teacher this:

You’ve no real idea of the impact you’re having on your students and any particular students.

I’ll bet that Mrs. Fry wouldn’t be surprised that I remember her so vividly and positively. However, Mrs. Perez I’ll bet wouldn’t have a clue. Yet here she appears, in my post!

So why not KNOW unequivocally that you know your subject like the proverbial back of your hand and thereby are providing students with the education they need (and deserve). Then and only then are you doing your job well and meeting your responsibilities in an intrinsically noble profession.

Whatever the subject and level, every teacher shares three choices:

Shine (like my Mrs. Fry).

Suck (like my Mrs. Perez).

Swim with the Majority of Mediocrity.

Incidentally, there’s no harm in exiting a profession for which you’re ill-suited (and truthfully many teachers would better serve education by doing so). There is, however, shame in remaining in one.

Last but not least, take to heart those words of a wise, witty and wildly observant humanitarian:

It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others.

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