"You're only as tall as your heart will let you be, and you're only as small as the world will make you seem. When the going gets rough and you feel like you will fall, just look on the bright side: you're roughly six feet tall." ~Never Shout Never, On the Brightside
Leaving Classroom South this morning after teaching my Extensive Reading IEP course at GSU, I went out the side door and stumbled across some young folks experimenting with soda bottles. Being the sucker for experiential learning and kids that I am, I stopped to ask the one adult I saw present what was up. We don’t usually have kids this young on GSU’s campus. I caught a glimpse of her name tag. Her name looked familiar; her face looked more familiar. Couldn’t place where I knew her from, but I kept talking. I was probably nervous rambling, but it energized me to see high school youth teaching elementary youth about carbonation and such — while watching bottles explode, so I kept talking. I figured out that she was a former teacher from Fernbank Science Center, the STT program in ninth grade. I mentally told myself that she isn’t going to remember me from that, then I remembered the independent study neuroscience class I took with her my senior year. She wasn’t going to remember me from that either. I told her I was an alum of STT and her face lit up. I didn’t tell her about the other class — she asked what I was doing now. I sheepishly told her I am an English teacher andApplied Linguistics MA student at GSU. She smiled and tried to make me feel more comfortable. I think she said “I consider linguistics a science” and mentioned that her neighbor worked in my department. I left the conversation awkwardly at this point, but I had so much more I wanted to say.
I wanted to tell her, “thank you” first of all. I’m bad at things like this. I wanted to tell her I still have my electron microscopy pics of the pig’s heart cells I took in her class at Fernbank Science Center. I wanted to tell her also that I gained an appreciation for attention to detail by doing assignments such as these and having these experiences. I wanted to tellher how much about the brain I learned in her class in 12th grade, and how much about headaches I learned during her research project and how much self-confidence I gained during the presentation I did in her class even though I hated presentations. Then the memories started flooding back. She told me that I was too quiet once (those that don’t know me from HS don’t know that I was painfully anxious). She told me senior year that she didn’t think I had much to say until started interacting on the message board — I’ve always felt more comfortable expressing myself in writing. She told me that “I finally came alive” I think were her words. I wanted to tell her that I’m not actually as dumb as she thought I might have been back then, and how much more reflective I have become. Hers was the first class with an online component I took, ever, in my life. Back in the days of WEBCT. I’m dating myself now. But that medium made me realize that I could contribute — even if I didn’t want to talk in class. Hers was also the first elective class I took in the sciences — after my failed AP Biology fiasco that same year. She gave me faith in myself again — in learning at my own pace. I saw a human brain for the first time!
When I think about it now, so much of that year shaped who I am today, as corny as that sounds. Even though I rejected a career in the sciences, I didn’t reject a career in education — even after many trials and tribulations. Many of my beliefs about education and exploration (of language or other subjects) came from that year — and her brief class in neurobiology. When I think about it, I became an elementary teacher because I wanted to instill the love of discovery in young children. I wanted to share my delight in learning new things by experience with them. I do it at my pace, and I wanted to make sure that they understand that learning at one’s own pace is the right thing to do, despite what society tells them.
I guess I’m writing about this experience today because it solidified for me, why I’m doing what I’m doing.
To the future teachers of world: your voice makes a difference. Your actions make a difference. If I can remember something small from 20 years ago from a teacher I saw maybe twice in a month, that’s the power of a teacher. You have such incredible power — use it for good. Your students may hate your subject, show that they hate you because of it, be quiet because of crippling insecurity, but regardless, they are taking it all in. You just never know what it is they are taking in, and you may never know. Dr. Fiore will never know (unless she reads this blog post) what went on in my head after my interaction with her this morning, but and I will just have to live with that. She was simply doing what she loved, back then, and now.
As I move through this journey we call life, I realize my world gets smaller and smaller. Even more so with the internet. I have the power to google her name. I have the power to learn that she has since moved on from Fernbank, to become a science methods instructor for early childhood in the College of Ed at GSU. But what does that tell me really? That we have more in common with each other than I previously thought? Why does that help?
These are just some thoughts of mine…
This experience got me thinking, too, about my Science Methods course during undergrad. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough. It’s so hard to find teachers to teach these courses, and Jamie (can’t remember his last name) got us thinking about ways to engage young learners with experiences, not textbooks. It got me thinking about how he was really an artist at heart — and how I ran into him years later at the art festival in Piedmont Park, doing what he loved.
Have you ever had such an interaction? Have you ever had a teacher shape your thoughts and experiences in ways you didn’t know until years later?