Wednesday, May 9

Appreciating Education: Lessons From Five Teachers

"The most decisive factors in education are the student's hunger for knowledge and willingness to learn, coupled with the teacher's passion in their material and faith that the student is capable of learning anything." — Rich Becker

After teaching as an adjunct instructor for continuing education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for more than 12 years, I don't believe anything else matters in education. It's one of the things I learned this year from my gang of six (the smallest class size since I started teaching).

After I racked my head trying to determine why this group broke all previous records and vetted every other possibility, there wasn't anything left. These students delivered 100 percent attendance, 100 percent assignment completion, 100 percent rewrite completion, and did extra credit (even if they didn't need to).

Every student showed marked improvement, approximately two letter grades, with four of the six either earning or having the potential to earn better than 90 percent. In other words, the equivalent of an "A" in a professional field that I frequently tell students consistently produces "C" level work, with few standouts.

In previous years, only one student typically scored better than 90. Last year, not even one of them did.

My original thought was that their performance was the by-product of class size, the general evolution of my presentation material, or because I literally read the five things writers need to teach themselves out loud. But it really wasn't any of those things. At the end of the day, this class was hungry for knowledge and had a willingness to learn. It made my job easy because I am passionate about communication (especially written and visual communication) and believe anyone can learn it better than the industry's low standard.

Teacher Appreciation Week Is May 7-11, 2012. 

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. And even though teaching is something that I can only afford to do part time, I thought it would be fitting to thank five teachers who probably had the most influence on how I teach today, along with what they taught me beyond their subject material.

Richard Pyle (7th grade, junior high school). He taught me to always work outside comfort zones because it is outside our comfort zone that we are most likely to find something that will change our lives.

Ms. Duffy (9th grade, high school). She taught me that we're not doomed to repeat history as long as we're smart enough to study it and understand it without putting our own bias into it.

Betty Sabo (9-12th grade, high school). She taught me that we alone ultimately make our own choices and, in doing so, determine whatever outcomes come our way.

Warren Lerude (sophomore/senior year, college). He taught me how perception makes most of us only one or two questions away from changing our minds despite our strongest convictions.

Ron Cooney (junior year, college). He taught me the most clever idea in the world isn't worth beans unless it can be executed and then presented in such a way that it delivers results.

These lessons had an impact on how I teach because I include them in my own lessosn: the importance of research, the ability to be empathetic, the character to be accountable, the courage to challenge ourselves, and the fearlessness to pursue our dreams.

It might not be what one expects from people who taught subjects like reading, history, forensics, media law, or copywriting. But one has to have an open mind for those teachers who have the audacity to believe in you. I'm grateful. And I hope that you have teachers who have touched your lives too.
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