Collective Wisdom: who was your most important teacher?

In my CBC Radio column this month, I ask: who was your most important teacher when you were growing up? Take a listen over at the Island Morning website.  

I thought this month I'd include a transcription, for those more inclined to read than listen.


No one liked my grade-five teacher Mrs. Griffith.

She was ancient. Gosh, she must have been almost fifty. She made us sit still. No talking. And... she made us learn grammar.

It was awful.

My grade fell through a gaping hole in writing curriculum. The class ahead of us was the last to be taught with phonics. The class behind us was the first to learn with whole language. My class, well, we didn't get taught either.

One day, after Mrs. Griffith watched yet another kid struggle with turning words into a sentence, she threw up her hands.

"Okay," she said. "Books away. For the next two weeks, I'm going to teach you grammar. Don't tell your parents."

Everything was done on the blackboard so it could be quickly erased to leave no evidence of this rogue teaching. 

In two weeks, we learned about nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions. We learned to punctuate. We learned about the difference between a definite and indefinite article. We learned about subject verb-agreement. And we parsed. 

Oh, did we parse. 

At the time, we hated it. 25 years later, I can see it was the most important two weeks in my 17 year schooling career.

 Let's seek some collective wisdom. Who was your most important teacher when you were growing up?

<streeter tape>

I remember confessing to my grade four teacher the year I wanted to write a novel.
He didn't exactly scoff, but he made it clear it wasn't worth trying.

The next year, I said the same thing to Mrs. Griffith. She ordered me a book about how to develop plot and characters.

So I wrote. I filled a Hilroy notebook with a novel which borrowed heavily from the plot, structure, and characters of the movie Back to the Future.

Mrs. Griffith taught me the basics--the stuff she thought was important. But she also gave me the freedom and encouragement to chase after the thing I thought was important. 

I think about that a lot, because we're homeschooling our kids. Just this week, my son Henry created his own card game. The characters, rules, and card layout are almost identical to the Pokemon Trading Card Game.

I'm just as proud of this accomplishment as I am when I watch him parse a sentence. Which, I'm happy to say, he can do like a pro.

1 comment:

Misty said...

I don't think I'd be good at homeschooling for lots of reasons, but one of them is because I don't know how I'd teach my kids the stuff I don't know. I'm amazed to see families like yours, who do it so well. But that's not the point.

My 3 favorite teachers are my favorite for the same reason. They challenged me to think. Not the way they thought, but to think the way I think. If that makes sense? (I didn't have a Mrs Griffith.)
Mr Dunn was my basketball coach & gym teacher. He actually kicked me off the team once. We didn't exactly see eye to eye, but that was the best part. We're still friends.
Madame D'Eon was my high school French immersion teacher for 3 years. We also disagreed, but I always respected her for allowing me to speak my mind so long as I did in a polite way, and in French. She also let us watch Spartacus and read Les Miserables.
Prof Whalen was my marketing prof. He typically answered my questions with "what do you think". When I chose to do an undergrad project bridging the economics and animal science departments (something I guess you're not supposed to do), he agreed to be my mentor.
I like to think I challenged them as much as they challenged me. But they were likely happy to see me go.