Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Standing On The Shoulders

Ask the question "Have you ever had a teacher who inspired you?" - especially to a roomful of teachers - and the response is largely predictable: immediate and unmistakably wide grins of nostalgic recognition.

Chris Hobson, my fourth grade teacher, was the first male teacher I had and one of of only three at my elementary school. It is hard to pinpoint what makes him so memorable in a way that does not sound ambiguous or clich├ęd, but I think what stands out most is his enthusiasm. He would bounce around the classroom in a way that made me believe that there was something truly compelling - almost magical - about diagramming sentences. In truth, there is nothing at all compelling about diagramming sentences (at least, not to me), but he approached it like a mystery to be solved. And we all signed on without reservation.

I am not a science guy, not even remotely, but our science unit that year centered around meteorology, of all things. We learned the different names of the clouds - and what they signified. We set up weather-predicting instruments in the schoolyard. And we filmed "weather reports" that were taped and played on a loop on the public access channel. It's one of those units that you remember for years, and it isn't until I sit down now to think about Mr. Hobson that I realize that there is no reason I'd know what cumulus, stratus, or cirrus clouds mean if it weren't for him. Would it matter, if I didn't know these things? Probably not, but I'm grateful for it. Learning something I did not need to know makes me a better learner now.

After a mediocre third grade experience - and during some trying times at home - Mr. Hobson was a steadying influence in my life. He was someone who I knew I could count on, who was steadfastly optimistic and unconditionally encouraging. I have not diagrammed a sentence or checked an altimeter in more than 20 years, but since I started working in schools I think about Chris Hobson a lot.

So, as we think about how to develop a network of educators across the country, it is perhaps useful to consider those who came before us, on whose shoulders we stand every morning.

Which teachers have inspired you?

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