It never failed. Every year at the end of the school year when we opened up our report cards to see what teacher we would have the next year, the name on my report card was without fail the teacher no one wanted. They were mean or strict or tough. And I would begin every year with fear and trepidation…and end up loving those teachers wholeheartedly. I have been privileged throughout my life with amazing teachers. Not only were they innovative in teaching, but they recognized their students as individuals, challenging us to, not only do our best, but to BE our best.
In 4th grade, I had Mrs. Huffman. By reputation, she was hard as nails, but I will never forget the tears running down her cheeks when she read the end of Old Yeller and when the Challenger crashed. She was tough because she wanted the best for her students–inside the classroom and out. She wanted us to dream big…and she expected honesty and integrity in all things. Most importantly, she loved every single one of us.
My husband still trembles a bit when I mention my 7th and 8th grade English teacher, Mr. Wish (because who can say Wisniewski?!). His reputation for loudly reprimanding students could not be beat, but, trust me, every lecture was well-deserved. Even though he didn’t take any you know what, he cared deeply about his students and challenged us to accomplish more than we thought we could and to be more than average. Not only did he teach us English, but he expected us to be decent human beings (quite the feat for middle schoolers!).
Mr. Roberts was another Jr. High hero who taught math and science. I still think algebra is fun and the insides of frogs are beautiful because of him. He would tease us mercilessly, but he was like a second father to his students. It was so obvious that he cared about us that even the rowdiest of the bunch had his respect…and it wasn’t the giant paddle on the wall that created that respect (yes, those were the good old days), but the fact that, like any good parent, he did what he said he would do. He cared that we learned how to write a check and balance a budget just as much as he cared about our success in his class and also just as much as who liked who.
Each one of these teachers had completely different personalities, but they all managed to reach large classrooms of diverse students with both academic and life lessons that stuck. I may never live up to the reputations of the many phenomenal teachers who have graced my life, but I hope that my students know that I genuinely care about them and their success. The combination of raising the bar, truly caring, and showing students respect seems to set the foundation for a wonderful classroom environment. Really, I think classroom management can be summed up with one simple principle…treat others as you’d like to be treated.