I graduated from high school from one of the only two remaining high schools in North Carolina that were historically African-American, pre-integration. I loved West Charlotte. Still do. And I had some extraordinary teachers there--some of the best I've ever seen.
Not at all surprisingly, my favorite high school teachers were iconoclasts whose strong opinions were... let's just say, not entirely positively received by higher-ups. Perhaps more surprisingly, none of the four were my English teachers. John Cox was my Pre-Calculus and Calculus teacher; Cyndi Soter (now O'Neil) was my newspaper advisor; Jocelyn Thompson was my choral instructor; Riley Bratton taught me half of AP US History and all of AP Government.
I stole and adapted elements from each into my own "teacher persona" - that conglomeration of influences that make us all who we are in the classroom. From Cox, I stole heavy-handed joking sarcasm--he managed to crack jokes on just about everyone while keeping the mood in the class light-hearted and deadly serious at the same time. From Soter, I stole the idea that teachers could work alongside students and not feel intimidated by their knowledge. From Mrs. Thompson (who I wouldn't dare call just by her last name without "Mrs." attached, not even when I'm 33), I learned the meaning of musical professionalism and demanding exacting standards. From Dr. Bratton, I learned how to keep a straight face while making jokes, never letting students know whether I was actually serious or not, as well as the practice of spending far more time asking questions than I spent answering them.
And from all of them, I learned the importance of creating a family in the classroom: how difficult that is, and how magical it is when it happens.
Of course, the idea here is to tell how I'm different than them in my own classroom. Obviously, since it's 15-20 years later, my access to and proficiency with technology is greater. I thought my insistence on creating a student-centered classroom is different, as well as my intent to move myself out of the I KNOW ALL OF THE THINGS position. Also, now, we have this thing called "YouTube."
But honestly, I started this post thinking how different I was than them: I was thinking that I lecture almost never, and they lectured a lot. When I think back on the actual classes, however, despite our technological advances these years later, all four of them ran a 1990s-version of a student-centered classroom. We spent virtually no time listening to any of them lecture. We spent our face-to-face time singing songs, one part and one phrase at an excruciating time, which eventually coalesced into magical harmonies and dozens of awards. We spent our face-to-face time working complex problems together, or arguing about Keynesian economic theory (of which our teacher was a major proponent), or being led largely by a student editorial staff that basically said, "We're making a newspaper. Here's what I need you to do. Don't screw it up."
As I think back to these four, I realize how incredibly lucky I was to have teachers that empowered my classmates and me to make the most of our education. What started as a blog post about differences has only served to remind me how much I owe to these people (and many others).
So thank you. All of you. I appreciate you, and my students now do too, even though they may not recognize it.
Note: Also many thanks to Renea Crumbley, who told me to be a writer; Ian Kutner, who showed me the thousands of layers in complex texts; Angela Brathwaite and Cheryl Harper, who mentored this weird kid in 11th grade; Laura Lackman Sifford, who was never my teacher but mentored me personally, professionally, and academically, and functioned as one of my biggest cheerleaders at WC; Jennifer Lupold Pearsall, who let me write a play in Spanish in lieu of actually taking Spanish 4 (and who by proxy introduced me to Jennifer Nettles in 1998); David Butler, who taught me about academic responsibility and sacrifice; and Ann Vinson, who taught a kid who hated science to love Chemistry.
Another note: I will be sending this post on to as many of these teachers as I still have contact info for. However, Mr. Cox and Dr. Bratton have somehow disappeared into the ether (well, to a mountain cabin, in Bratton's case). If anyone knows where they can find any of the named teachers, please forward this on. Thanks.