Teacher, Teacher


My co-worker and fellow blogger shared this article with me in which the columnist challenged people, in the new year and the new decade, to look at a few things through fresh eyes. The writer listed 52 suggestions, one for every week of the year. This week’s topic is Teachers.

The fourth-grade teacher I could've had, with my boys Finn and Caden

I’ve had several influential teachers in my life — Mrs. Horn in sixth grade constantly corrected by grammar (some of it stuck, most of it didn’t); Mrs. Hughes in 10th grade selected me for yearbook staff, setting me on the path to journalism and writing, and various other science teachers and history teachers, etc. But the most influential teacher in my life is the one I didn’t have.

My family moved from “the city” to “the country” the summer before fourth grade. My class was a “mixed” class of half fourth grade and half third grade with the teacher teaching one grade while the other did seat work. I’ve always kind of contributed my drop in grades from a straight-A student at my previous school to a Cs and Ds student at my new school to this “mixed class” arrangement. And I really do think that had a lot to do with it. But I think the biggest thing was that my teacher was apathetic. I had come from a private school and then a really good city school where the teachers cared, and this teacher — she didn’t seem to care. So I didn’t seem to care. And that made a world of difference, it turned out.

My mom cared though, and somehow we made it through fourth grade. The next school year I returned to the private school I had attended two years previous, and the rest of my school years were beautiful. Had I not a bad teacher in fourth grade, my school years and maybe my life could look quite different.

How so, do you ask?

Well, four years ago when I came to work at NASA, I found out that one of the teachers I work with used to teach at that elementary school. Used to teach fourth grade at that elementary school. No, it’s not the same teacher I had. But we did the math and my co-worker left that school the summer before I came. According to our calculations, she would’ve been my fourth grade teacher if she hadn’t changed schools, and who knows, if she was, maybe things would have turned out differently for me. She’s a wonderful person and seems like a much better teacher than the woman I had, so I can only imagine it would have been quite the different experience.

So that’s where things get interesting. Maybe I would have done well in fourth grade, stayed at that school, and in fifth grade had a rough year, moved back to my other school eventually anyway and I still end up pretty much like I am today. Maybe I would do well in fourth, and continue to do well in fifth, and stay in school there all the way through, graduating from the country school and perhaps never being exposed to having my grammar checked or being encouraged in my writing and never becoming a writer. Or maybe I would’ve been encouraged in writing in some other way and it all turns out just fine. No way to know (Ask Him when we get there), but it’s interesting to think how many key things were decided just by which fourth grade teacher I had.

Or rather, which fourth-grade teacher I didn’t have.

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