The good ones stand out
My mom called Thursday to tell me that my second grade teacher had died. She was a chirpy, quirky little woman, and she seemed a sort of celebrity to me when I was just an elementary school kid.
The news that she died started me thinking about teachers that have the most impact and leave the longest lasting impression on us.
I think the ones with the greatest impact on me are the ones who continued to remember me and check in on me long after my time under their instruction had ended. It's probably a function of living in a small community -- like this one -- but I'm still amazed by an elementary school teacher who sees me after a few years and knows exactly what I was up to the last time we spoke. Or several teachers who asked for updates from my mom for years after I moved away from home. Or the dean of my college who tracked me down after three job changes and two moves just see how I was doing and to tell me again that he hoped I'd get a doctorate someday.
They are still encouraging me and making me want to stand up straight and be impressive.
It all makes me think that educators must have supernatural memories to keep track of students on a revolving roster year after year and class after class. I'm also impressed that something inside them makes them care to remember -- probably some trait that's exaggerated in people who go into education.
Besides continued contact, what about teachers leaves an impression on their students?
I've always appreciated a bit of the oddness exhibited my second grade teacher and others like her. The ones who were a little different seemed to break the generic "teacher" mold, leaving someone who was interesting to be around, who also happened to be at the front of the room where the "teacher" usually stands.
Another common trait among the teachers that I remember most is that most of them were tough.
They had reputations for being tough with discipline and tough academically.
They may have seemed sharp and intimidating at the time, the fear of doing wrong that they instill in students results in achievements.
I feel like my best teachers through life are the ones who stand out, or they stand out because they were the best. Either way, if I picture them all in a group -- from kindergarten through graduate school -- some surge forward in my mind while the rest fade behind, and the ones I remember most clearly are the ones who pushed me or related to me in a way that I think is essential to learning.
Those are the "good" teachers and one of them made me realize it this week, even in her death.