Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Teacher's Influence

Tonight Random House tweeted this photo and I smiled.

This book had such a huge impact on me. In 1982 I read it when I was in second grade. My first grade teacher, Miss Tuck, asked me to come visit her class and read them a story. I practiced and practiced, reading to my stuffed animals each night. I made sure my voice showed the frustration of Grover, the worry about the monster we were about to encounter. And then the day arrived.

I clearly remember the first graders sitting, waiting. I remember picking up the book and trying to hold it out to the side so they could see. I remember the book being oversized and hard for my seven year old arms to hold out as I read. The students laughed at the story and hung on every word. They clapped when I finished. Miss Tuck put her arm around me and whispered in my ear how wonderfully I had done. I hugged the book to my chest as I walked back to my second grade classroom and thought how much I wanted to do that again. 

Miss Tuck was always quick with words of encouragment. She saw me, truly saw me - the quiet, shy, awkward kid. I was the master of trying to blend it, to not be noticed; yet she always did. I still remember an inside recess in our classroom. A boy named Shawn came up and kicked me for no reason. He said something to me, who knows what, and I gave in to frustration and chased him. Miss Tuck walked in and called out both of our names and told us to sit down and put our heads down. I collapsed on my desk, tears streaming down, sure she hated me for ever.

Miss Tuck came over, put her arm across my shoulders, and talked to me. I remember words of encouragement, words of advice so that I would know what to do next time, and her tone of respect and love. I remember the relief of realizing she didn't hate me, that she knew we all made mistakes, and vowing to myself to be even better. 

In Miss Tuck's room I felt at home. I was braver than I was before or after. I felt courage to take risks because I knew she'd catch me when I fell. And it wasn't just me, we all loved her. She was a teacher who taught through books, stories, and relationships. She knew her students well, set high expectations, and talked to you about your job as a student. When she met with me, she'd share what she observed as my strengths and the areas I needed to work on. If I was struggling, she knew it and would guide me until I could succeed on my own.

I've thought about her a lot this week when talking to my own students - and sons - about some areas they need to work on. It is hard to hear criticism, however well meaning the message is. Miss Tuck is always in my head and I hope I can make my students feel half as lucky to have me as a teacher as I felt about Miss Tuck. 

Relationships. I do believe they are the key.