Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Three Most Influential Educators in My Life

In No Particular Order

1). Sue Alexander - Ninth Grade English
Going through elementary and middle school, the book on me was pretty much that while I was strong in Math and Science, I was weak in English and History.  My highest overall grade in English to that point had been a 94.  In the four marking periods in Ms. Alexander's class I received a 99, 99, 94, and 99, and a 98 on the final.

I don't remember too much about English classes before Ms. Alexander's.  I remember being bored a lot, and never being particularly challenged or inspired.  Funny how with Ms. Alexander, a teacher widely regarded to be among the strictest, I never felt that sense of monotony.  I remember being introduced to Romeo and Juliet, and Truman Capote and Ray Bradbury and the fantastic posters she had adorning the walls about The Globe Theatre and Shakespeare.  I remember for the first time, absolutely knocking my writing assignments out of the park.

Ms. Alexander was the first English teacher I ever had to show me that not only was I a good writer, but I loved doing it.  If there is a sole reason that I began writing early in tenth grade, she is probably it.  She gave me a lot of leeway in class which I, as a creative person, appreciated.  Some assignments can be horribly stifling, especially expository ones when the writer tends towards penning fiction.  Yet I never felt that way in class.  I remember that we had to do a five page research paper on some facet of Shakespeare.  I believe mine ended up being eight or nine pages long.  And not only that, but holy crap, it was easy!

That feeling has stayed with me through the years.  From then on, all the way through college, I heard people bitch about writing assignments (especially as an engineering major).  Look, I have one book that's 236 pages, single spaced.  Another is 342 pages double spaced.  I have almost a hundred short stories, probably stretching over 500 pages, single spaced.  So...lab reports, optional ten page papers, Writing Across the Curriculum assignments, are these supposed to actually be difficult?

Thanks Ms. Alexander

2). Kate Flood - 12th Grade Contemporary Literature
Kate Flood is probably the funniest teacher I've ever had.  She let me do pretty much anything in class, up to and including homework for other classes.  There is nothing I respect more than a teacher that lets me be myself.

There's no real nice way to say this, but Contemporary Literature was the class taken by the Seniors who didn't want to do any real work their senior year because it was easy.  Thus I think the effort on a lot of assignments from the majority of the class was underwhelming.  I took two English classes my senior year, so I wasn't in Contemp-Lit to slack off (even though I did), I was there because I wanted to be.  And I wasn't disappointed.

There is a lot from this class that sticks with me, even six years later.  Ms. Flood had bar-none the most interesting curriculum of any class I've ever taken.  I feel that she encouraged her students to be individuals, and that reflected in the things that we did.  I'll never forget the unit we did on unconventional relationships, culminating in the viewing of one of my all-time favorite movies, Harold and Maude.  I mean, isn't every relationship unconventional?  It seems that way for me.  One of my closest friends for the past seven years is five years younger than me.  Most of my close friends were met on the internet, and the rest of my close friends are a few years older than me.

I think a lot of people hold back from showing the world who they are out of a fear of appearing weird.  Flood's class taught me to not only accept being extremely strange, but to celebrate it.  And I do.  All the freaking time.

3). Mary Doherty - 11th Grade Honors English, 12th Grade Mythology
Liked her so much I had her twice!  Ms. Doherty is probably the teacher I visited most after I finished high school.  She is and was an extremely nice person, and really went the extra mile in assisting students.  She simply seemed to care much more than other teachers, and it shined through in the way she taught.

I remember in eleventh grade she showed a friend and I the confidentiality agreement she had to sign upon accepting a job in Baldwinsville.  It had some pretty interesting Cold-War era language even though she began work in the mid nineties, long after the Russians were a huge issue.

For an honors class in which you expect to be challenged, she always seemed to make things easy on the students while still expecting them to raise their effort to match their intelligence.  In a year when I only had to take one English elective, I took two because I liked what Doherty brought as a teacher, and I was interested in the subject matter of Mythology.  I think that's the ultimate sign of respect to an educator, realizing that when you're done being taught, you're not ready to be done learning from them.


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  2. You should marry your 9th grade teacher and give her a hyphenated last name.

    That way on Christmas Cards you will be Mr. and Mrs. Alexande Bauer and at her job she will be Mrs. Alexander-Bauer.