As I do a mental review of the dozens of teachers that I have had in my life, several stand out for their impact on my life as a child and as an adult. Helen Jewitt was my elementary school PE teacher. In fact, she was my father’s PE teacher as well. She taught me how to skip, how to square dance, how to ride a bike with turned down handle bars, and she taught me the strict rules of tether ball – certainly one of the great playground games of all time. She taught me about humility in winning and dignity in losing. Most importantly, Miss Jewitt taught me about myself – she saw things in me that I could not see. She believed in me and pushed me forward. I am not sure how our relationship got built, but from kindergarten through 5th grade I saw her nearly every day of my school life. She was a steady, caring and fully engaged part of my learning and growing as a young boy.
Ralph Chabert was my first African American teacher. He exposed me to powerful writings by James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver – unsettling material for a very comfortable, somewhat sheltered white suburban high schooler. One element of his great teaching centered on his choice of readings, his gentle way of prodding deeper thinking, the constant exploration of uncomfortable questions and scarring truths. His great teaching centered on intellectual and emotional challenge and stimulation. At the same time, Mr. Chabert exuded a love of ideas, of teaching, of social justice, a strong appreciation for adolescent development and for me as an individual finding my way. Much like Miss Jewitt, he believed in me and pushed me to see myself in broader terms.
A third great teacher in my life was a man named Manvel Schauffler (Schauff). Schauff actually never taught me, not directly. He was a colleague in my early teaching years. His experience far outpaced mine, having been a long time middle school teacher, coach, administrator, bus driver, school head and visionary founder of two Seattle area independent middle schools. Perhaps more accurately he was a mentor to me. Distilled to the core, his lessons were about pitching in for the good of the community and leaning in – that is putting your shoulder to the proverbial wheel to push the wagon forward (sometimes out of the mud). He often shared the refrain “the sun always shines on the righteous,” even on the rainiest of days – not necessarily a religious reference, but I think more a reminder, a call for responsibility to do good and important work so the world will be a brighter better place.
Here at The Little School there is great teaching going on every day. My hunch is some of your child’s teachers will impact them much like Miss Jewitt, Mr. Chabert and Schauff did for me. Being the parent of a young child is a hope filled time of life. The three year old pitching a fit will become the nine year old who will think and read and write with confidence, creativity and clarity. Soon the early adolescent will be thinking about getting their driving license and then on to college and careers as yet unknown. Along the way there will be teachers – dozens of them. There will likely be a few who will shape your child’s life in ways that will push them to see themselves differently. They will teach them new skills, expose them to difficult complex problems, and they will teach them to lean in. Great teaching is certainly about skills and content, and it is about self-awareness, about character, about heart.