Monday, October 5, 2015

Teacher Appreciation Day

Apparently today is World Teacher's Day, and I've been invited to share a story about teachers who made a difference in my life. Don't mind if I do :)

Fortunately, I've been lucky enough to have a number of really good teachers through the years. There was Minna, my math teacher in primary school who definitely influenced my love of math. She was also the school librarian, and once I was old enough, I was invited to be a student librarian, and be responsible for the library in some of the lunch breaks. I LOVED that :) At that age I was certain I wanted to be a librarian myself at some point.

Peter, my English/music teacher in primary school was also really cool. Definitely the most amusing teacher that school had, and I think pretty much everybody liked him. He'd do odd things like wait until the class was completely silent, engrossed in reading or writing something, and then take a stack of dictionaries and throw them to the floor, making us all jump! Sounds childish when I think back on it, but we loved it :) He'd say things like "Write, until the blood springs from under your fingernails!" ... which sounds a lot less cumbersome in Danish, and I promise, wasn't nearly as creepy as it sounds! He liked joking around with us, and was one of the most respected teachers in school for actually taking us seriously.

In high school I had some really cool teachers as well, both in my Danish and New Zealand schools. Inge taught me Danish for two years of high school. She was strict, but passionate about her subject, and I really liked her. In New Zealand I was taught English by Mrs. Y. - a wonderful eccentric teacher, who'd come into the class singing, teach a class completely in rhyme, and enter the class saying "Class, I have a wonderful surprise for you! We get new dictionaries today!!!". Mr. Holm taught history and was perhaps just a step above eccentric. His classroom was off by itself, and outside the door was a sign with "Welcome to Holmania". He was brilliant at making history come alive and could make pretty much everything a teaching experience. He'd have people enact certain periods of history, and when some classmates of mine wondered how on earth the war in Ireland could be about religion "since they were all Christians", he started a religious debate in class, just to show us how quickly it could get heated - even among people who liked each other.

However, my hands-down, all-time favourite teacher would have to be Mrs. Jane G. who taught Std. 4 at Winchester School in 1990 and who thus became my main teacher for all of that year.

Let's set the stage: imagine teaching 20-25 kids age 9-11. They're mostly good kids, but a handful as any large group of kids that age would be. Enter the challenge... a pupil (me) who knows perhaps 10 words of English, who has to be brought up to speed and taught together with the rest of the kids in the classroom. It didn't register at the time (let's face it, I was an egocentric ten-year-old), but looking back at it, I am so grateful to her for how she handled it. She seemed to know exactly when to let me cut corners in order not to get too discouraged, and when to encourage me to push on, knowing I'd get there in the end. And since she was so sure I'd get there, I obviously had no choice but to live up to her expectations! She knew no Danish herself, but found ways to help me translate words into English regardless. Part of that was making me look words up in the tiny Danish-English pocket dictionary I always had on hand, but more often, she'd help me in other ways in order to help me figure out what the words meant for myself and thus allowing me to feel like I'd accomplished something - no matter how small.

I remember one specific situation in particular.

One day in school we were told to write a paragraph about the earthquake that had hit the evening before. I looked at her questioningly - while I had my dictionary, I couldn't even begin to guess how that word was spelled to look it up (and given the size of the dictionary I'm not at all sure it would have had it anyway!). She must have noticed my blank stare, because as the others started writing, she came up to me.
"Maria, did you feel everything shake yesterday?" she asked, giving my shoulders a small shake.
"That's called an e-a-r-t-h-q-u-a-k-e," writing down the word as she spoke, so I could see how to spell it.
Light bulb moment, and while I still had to consult my dictionary many times in order to write a very grammatically flawed paragraph, I never again forgot the word "earthquake" - nor even how to spell it!

I've since been told that I hardly said anything the first 2'ish months, and then suddenly I was fluent and wouldn't shut up ;) Kids always have an easier time learning a new language - especially when forced to do so by being totally immersed in the language - but there is no doubt that Mrs. G. made it a lot easier on me that it could have been. She never seemed frustrated by my haltering attempts at communicating, and was always ready with an encouraging word and a compliment when I got something right. All in all resulting in a teacher I got to respect and like, and whom I still consider my favourite these 25 years later. She still teaches as Winchester, and I try to drop by whenever I'm in the country. Last I met her was in 2004 for our honeymoon, but I hope to get to catch up with her when I go to visit next month.

Mrs. G. - you're awesome! :-)

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