This month Oregon Jewish Life looks at education and the impact good schools and good teachers can have on children. An excellent teacher influences a child’s life long after the school year ends.
A 2012 study by professors at Harvard and Columbia tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, from fourth grade to adulthood. It showed that a good teacher improves lives into adulthood.
I think most adults can look back on a teacher who made a difference in their lives. I know I can. I feel fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers growing up. But I remember two without whom I would not be a journalist.
When I was in seventh grade, my family moved to the small town of Youngstown, NY. The transition to junior high was especially nervewracking, since I had spent most of the previous years in class with the pretty much the same 20-25 children. But Mrs. Smith, yes that really was my English teacher’s name, changed my experience. From our first writing assignment she became my champion. She inspired me to think and write clearly. And at the end of seventh grade, she recommended me for a special eighth-grade class in creative writing instead of the standard eighth-grade English. That class, too, was wonderful, though I can’t recall the name of the teacher who guided us as we spent the year writing, among other things, our own novel.
As much as I enjoyed writing, when I headed to college, I enrolled in science and math classes so I could apply to vet school. After spending a summer working in a vet clinic, I realized I didn’t want to become a veterinarian. I had taken several literature courses with one professor who taught me a lot about writing. On my very first essay in his class, he wrote in huge red letters, “Holes you could drive a truck through” and “Support this.” I took his comments to heart and learned more about writing with purpose. When I wanted to change my major, I went to talk to him. He suggested I apply to the technical journalism department – it would use my science background and my writing skills. “You are a good writer,” he assured me.
I took his advice and have never been sorry.
For this issue I talked to some wonderful educators whom I expect to have just as much impact on their students. As you read about them, I hope you find yourself smiling as you remember your own favorite teacher.