When I was a freshman in college, I detested that our time and money was being wasted in required weed out chemistry classes run by a professor who wore Hawaiian shirts and made girls cry during office hours so I arranged a meeting with the head of the department.
He came to the meeting in sweatpants, gaslit me, and afterwards sent me a scathing email in which he copied his superior and summarized everything he had said along with false quotations from me, and then told me never to speak to him again.
Can you guess one reason why I switched my major from chemistry that year?
When I read that email I felt as though I had been slapped. You can’t excuse yourself from students, that is your job. And if you can’t handle feedback you shouldn’t be managing anybody.
There are memories in life that still make me vibrate with anger, and this is one of them.
If the doctor’s oath is “first, do no harm” the teacher’s should be “don’t forget what you are”.
I told my Hong Kong tutor about the Korean hagwon teacher with whom I fought every class because his response to my questions born of genuine curiosity was usually “that’s just the way it is, please stop asking”. As a teacher herself she was aghast: “he must not have had his teaching license. Not good. You and I are teachers so we know better; you are very curious and ask many questions during class which is great. You want to learn and you’re not quiet”.
I would never stop my students from asking genuine questions and I would never “recuse myself from contact” (the literal chemistry man’s words) from a student because she voiced her concerns.
And while the system retains less than stellar tenured professors, pay and prestige for American public school teachers is at an all time low. Fifty years ago, over seventy percent of parents approved of their children becoming teachers. That’s dropped to forty five percent. Coworkers here asked if I’d work as a teacher in the US— I told them that’s a hard no. God bless my friends and family who are teachers and sincere thanks to all my teachers who managed to teach me so well in a system that is stacked against them more every year. So let’s give thanks where thanks is due:
Thanks to Ihyeon teacher from my Korean course for having the best shoes and the most patience with baby learners.
Thanks to my Czech professor for keeping up with me and providing an unexpected link years later when an engineer undergrad approached me after I spoke at their commencement to say “Pr. Holly still talks about you— apparently you and I are the only engineers to ever take her class!”
Thanks to my very Russian calc 3 professor who had facial recognition problems and never quite looked us in the eyes but told us he would bump our grades if we visited his office hours. I was sick once and like the Russian grandpa I never had, he told me to drink warm milk and honey. Being alone as a young student, I nearly cried at the personal attention.
Thanks to my college Spanish TA for her excitement to answer my out of the box questions and my AP Spanish teacher for offering to talk with me anytime and then hiding her shock when I spent an hour after school telling her in Spanish about my breakup. That’s the language to do it in, right?
Thanks to my AP English teacher for putting up with our ridiculous shenanigans and letting me write a comparative Hamlet essay using an Emily Autumn song.
Thanks to my French 1 teacher for giving me the rules for the “around the world game”. I’ve passed it on to my students who love it.
Thanks to my AP stats teacher whose methods I thought were strange until I got a five no problem on the national exam.
Thanks to my kindergarten teacher for seeing through my quiet wall and taking me out to dinner once.
Thanks to my middle school social studies teacher who smelled like coffee and told us stories about extremely fun but questionably maintained sledding by the Great Wall. She was the teacher who made me think about the world outside my country and she’s the one I would want to tell these stories most of all.
This is all a roundabout way to say a teacher can make or break you, and when they make you, they build your foundation.
I want to be that teacher for my students and will continue trying, training, and learning.