Observations and Oddities

Lessons learned

As I was working today on the copy for a new brochure, I heard a voice from my past.  It was my high school English Composition teacher saying to me “one sentence does not a paragraph make.”  Now, you should know that I am a professional communicator.  I work in marketing, where the rules of writing are a bit more casual than the rubrics of formal composition.  As such, it is perfectly acceptable for me use a standalone sentence as an opening paragraph. It is also acceptable for me to use the occasional run-on sentence, to start a sentence with “but” or “because” and to break a myriad of other proper writing rules. However I can’t help but hear the echoes of one of my life’s educators in my head as I apply the skills she helped me hone.

Today, for some reason, this resonated a bit more with me than it has in the past and I started to look back on some of the other great things I have learned from teachers throughout my life. While the list that ran through my head included people from various walks of life who had crossed paths with me in a wide variety of roles, I kept finding myself focusing on the professional educators that were (along with my parents) charged with the task preparing me to be an effective, functioning  adult. 

These teachers performed all of the obligatory tasks- I learned to read, write, spell and tabulate. I understand (a little more than) the basics of life science, anatomy, U.S. and world history and geography.  I can even speak a little bit of Spanish.   My teachers did their job. They taught me the required subject matter. They saw me through the system and prepared me to be an employed grown-up.  But when I reflected on the things that they taught me that have most impacted who I am today- it had nothing to do with what was in the lesson plan, or what I needed to know to score well on the ISTEP test, or even what the requirements were to earn my college scholarship.  The things they really taught me are far more important.

I found it fitting in the wake of recent events, to list a few of the things I’ve learned from teachers along the way. As people are pondering the monetary value of the service educators provide, I’ve gathered a few of the priceless things they gave to me in the bullets below.  This list could go on for days and days, so I mean no disrespect to those who may not be mentioned, or by leaving out additional things I learned from those listed, but here are a few that stand out:

  • Mrs. Willis taught me in kindergarten that it is OK to be proud of your talents and to share them with others without feeling like you are different or showing off. I was an early reader when many of my classmates were just beginning to explore the concept. She would have me read to the class during group reading time, something that made me very self-conscious.
  • Ms Tonies taught me that you shouldn’t cave to peer pressure.  A classmate had dared me to bite him. I knew better, but he was one of the “cool” kids and I was not.  I caved to his pressure and was immediately reprimanded and sent to the hall for a one-on-one conversation with Ms. Tonies (and, I feared, the paddle).  However, I received no corporal punishment. Instead I was given the 8-year old equivalent of the “if your friend told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?” lesson.
  • Mr. Guerin (OK, so he was a principal at the time) taught me that if you want something, you should tell someone that you want it, ask what it will take to get it and then work hard to do just that.  As a fifth grade student, I wanted nothing more than to be asked to participate in Project Challenge (an extra curricular learning program). However, an invitation was dependent on teacher recommendation and honor roll grades.  The grading period in which invitations were extended I received one of very few C+’s in my K-12 educational career- in handwriting.  I was devastated by the fact that something so (in my esteemed ten year-old opinion) insignificant, could keep me from my goal. I plead my case to Mr. Guerin.  After helping me see that handwriting was indeed important, and gaining my commitment to work hard to improve my script, Mr. Guerin offered me the chance to test for inclusion in the program.   I made it and improved my handwriting grade immediately.
  • Mrs. Grossman taught me that I had a natural talent for teaching.  I was never a student in Mrs. Grossman’s class. However, I did help lead a junior Girl Scout troop that met in her classroom after school when I was a junior high school student.  As such, she would often still be there, grading papers at her desk, silently observing how I interacted with the girls I was directing.  One week she stopped me and told me that I should really consider being a teacher, having been impressed with how I was able to connect with my girls and to really get them excited about what we were learning.   I did major in elementary education for a brief time in college before realizing it wasn’t really for me (I don’t really like kids as much as I thought).  However, years later I found that she was very right as I found myself in a job I loved- educating adults as a corporate trainer.
  • Mrs. McNeely told me I had stage presence. Following my first performance in a high school drama club production, she pulled me aside in the lobby and informed me of this. It was one of the biggest confidence boosters of my life and has been instrumental in helping me become a comfortable (and pretty effective) public speaker.
  • Dr. Hall taught me that the appropriate answer is usually “it depends.”   During the discussion of confounding variables in a Sociology 201 class, Dr. Hall taught me that things are hardly every black and white and before making a judgment  one should always consider what other variables there may be that have been overlooked. The foundation of critical thinking, a lesson I am reminded of on a daily basis and one that I believe has helped shape my character as an adult.

It is my sincere belief that individuals are created by their unique combination of exposure to- and experience with- others. It takes others’ contributions to create who we are. In my case, I feel blessed to have had some amazing people help make me who I am today and to continue to have others who are helping shape who I am still becoming.  My teachers have provided more than their fair share to this monumental task and I think one more recognition is appropriate as I close this entry.

Mrs. Talley taught me  that “once sentence does not a paragraph make.”


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