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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Thank a teacher

Thank a teacher

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I've been thinking a lot about the teachers who shaped my life over the years. The one who comes to mind first and foremost is Ms. Thames. She was my 2nd and 4th grade teacher, and - scandal! - one of the first teachers in that midwestern school to go by "Ms." She radiated so much love that she was almost luminous. She would take us on all kinds of outings- hiking through the forest, touring a local farm, or visiting an artist who made those cheesy macrame owls. Ms. Thames taught me to read and write and 'rithmatic, too, but way more than that, she taught me that there are a lot of pretty cool little miracles out there. I was elated to find that Ms Thames on Facebook, and that she's still teaching! I pinged her and she said she remembered me. Whether she did or not, we're Facebook friends now. :) Would love to hear stories of others' most influential teachers and what they taught you.

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Grace Rubenstein's picture
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia

As a teenager at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California, I was lucky to be a part of the student-run theater company, the Conservatory Theatre Ensemble, founded by Dan Caldwell and co-led by Dan and Susan Brashear.

I knew CTE then as a personal incubator for students of all stripes, a place where their passions and quirks were valued and their creativity was challenged to grow. CTE was nothing like the typical high school drama program that's all about staging big musicals and making students stars. At Tam, theater was (and still is -- CTE lives on) about so much more than acting; the stage is a tool to teach students about the power of art and the power within themselves.

The trick Susan and Dan pulled off was to take students' passion for performance and transform it into artistic and personal discipline. They reinforced and expanded on Dan's adage that "it's the art in yourself, not yourself in the art." The secret: they expected nothing less than for 14- to 18-year-olds to effectively run a production company, and they gave us teens enough guidance and support to succeed.

CTE students produce plays almost constantly throughout the year, and every student must participate fully, from studying lines to working the box office to operating the lights. Older students direct and younger ones act in semiannual one-act festivals, plunging teens into leadership and performance roles early on. Visiting artists bolster students' understanding of professionalism and teach such specialties as set design, playwriting and improvisation. Juniors and seniors in CTE play key roles in organizing all of this.

Underpinning these activities, Susan and Dan taught students the philosophies and techniques of dramatic masters, such as Alexander and Stanislavski. They loved theater's potential to move and educate (not just impress) an audience, and that passion infected their students, too. Throughout the experiences, we were challenged to examine and re-examine our own work, continually seeking to improve.

Looking back, I see that CTE didn't merely give me a spotlight to perform in; it taught me leadership, dedication and teamwork and instilled in me a lifelong reverence for the power of theater. And I know that I am just one of many.

Lora Ma-Fukuda's picture
Lora Ma-Fukuda
mom & former exec producer @edutopia.org

When I was in 9th or 10th grade (it's all a blur at this age) I had a wonderful English teacher who made reading and writing totally rad (that's what we used to say back then ;0). I loved her class, but she rarely gave high marks and I remember worrying that she'd probably be the one to torpedo my GPA for college apps.

After one particular writing assignment, she handed back the papers and mine was the only one with a note attached to the top. I peeked under the note and saw an A -- I was floored. But then I saw the note was actually from a UC Berkeley professor who was a friend of hers. His note encouraged me to keep writing! I couldn't believe my teacher thought enough of my work to share it with a professor.

I think that was a turning point for me. Before Ms. S, it never occurred to me that I could grow up to be a writer -- I hadn't even planned to major in English. But I eventually did and became a journalist. I often think about my teacher's simple gesture. She probably had no idea the impact it would have on me, but it changed the course of my life.

Emily Williams's picture

As a senior in high school, my world history teacher, Al Wilkerson, (the self subscribed 'Congo Cowboy') made a huge impression on me as to what I and my classmates were capable of. He refused to accept mediocre work and motivated all of us to give our best. I remember when at the end of the first nine-week when I received a B+, which I was OK with. He said, "Smith (my maiden name), You're capable of a A, I expect an A. I earned A's after that in his class. Throughout my journey as a special education teacher, school psychologist, and now as a professor of special education, I have never forgotten his insistence on excellence. Al, thank you for believing in all of us.

Mary Redman's picture

This is my public Thank You to Miss Meehan, who died many years ago--before I took the time to send her the thank you note I had always intended to write! Miss Meehan seemed the stereotype of the spinster English teacher to me in the late 60's when I took her class. My friends and I spent a good deal of time giggling over her idiosyncrasies, but we knew she was a solid teacher, and more important than that, we knew she really cared about us. In fact,she made a special effort to write some important recommendations for me before and during college. I ran into her a few times during and shortly after college, and she never failed to ask about my life, my family, my progress in school. Now that I think of it, I guess Miss Meehan became something of a role model for my own English teaching career. I will admit, too, that I feel an occasional twinge of guilt when I receive an email message or a letter out of the blue from one of my former students, thanking me for my impact on their lives. I regret I did not tell Miss Meehan how much she meant to me while I could!

Marcia J. Mayper's picture

I taught on the Lower Eastside in Manhattan for over 10 years during 1970's. It was a challenge with 7-9 graders of multilingual immigrants and a black population. The skills of many students were severely lacking. My colleague Judith Kocela Hawk suggested having the students keep a journal, which they handed in weekly. No edits or corrections especially in RED were done. They were asked to write anything that came to mind, draw pictures etc. I remember it took almost the entire weekend to read them, but I read everyone of them and commented. I guess it was our time to "chat". The students would come to class to retrieve their journals to see what I wrote. It was a wonderful idea and thank you Judith for suggesting this! Judith was ultimately honored with an award for best English Teacher by a student at Williams College 1997.

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