I have to admit I envy all of the thousands of teachers who will be eagerly getting their lessons ready for the start of school. Fifty-five years have passed since I taught my first class in 1964 in a small Catholic school in Madison Lake, Minn. I was fortunate to finish my teaching at Red Lake Nation College last year, ironically, teaching a class I had never taught before — reading and writing. I told my students the best way to learn to read and write is, you guessed it, by reading and writing and having some fun along the way. That’s what we did with an emphasis on the fun.
In those 55 years I have seen hundreds of nervous faces on those first days of school. I am not talking about students, I am talking about teachers. That nervousness translates into, “I’m ready, let’s do it. Where are my students?”
I hope teachers hold dear their positions. I believe they do. They realize the overwhelming responsibility they have in shaping the minds of kids. Parents often forget that teachers, during those 12 years of school, often have more one-on-one time with their kids than they do. This is reason enough for parents to get involved in their kids’ education. They need to get to know the teachers.
What should teachers be looking forward to?
The first day is always one of the best. Kids come to school in their new school duds. You never know what they will wear. I always made a point of noticing the shoes the elementary kids wore and complimented them. “Wow, where did you get those fancy shoes? You look sharp.” They walk away with a smile on their face.
I am not sure who is more nervous, high school kids or elementary kids. High school kids know there is a lot at stake. Everything now counts towards graduation. I always tried to ease high school kids into their classes by not talking too much about the content but focusing more on just visiting with students and getting to know them. We would talk about what they did during the summer; what they look forward to most about school; and what I could do as a teacher to make them feel more at ease.
College kids aren’t much different. They still want to have fun learning and I tried to mix a good balance of fun into what I was teaching. I wanted my students to enjoy learning as much as I did.
There are a lot of perks to being a teacher. You get those unexpected days off in the cold country. Attending those athletic and other extracurricular events where your students are performing always pays off. The next day you make some comment to them about the fact that you saw them.
For me the biggest perk was sitting down with other teachers to talk about what we could do to help a student that was struggling. I don’t think parents realize the many conversations that occur each year among teachers who are trying to find success for their students. It occurs at all levels including college. Good teachers really do care.
Occasionally, but not too often, you get a note from a student or a student will say something about how much they enjoy your class. I always meant to keep a scrapbook about all the good things that happened during a career of teaching but I never did. I just have lots of good memories.
There was a time I was teaching a class in children's literature in Wisconsin and I had a teacher that just wasn’t too vocal during the course. As a teacher you learn to pick the unengaged students out pretty fast because you want to reach all students. Well, at the end of the class after all the students had said their goodbyes and left and when the classroom was quiet and I was gathering my plethora of materials and books to make my trip back to Bemidji, this student returned. She confessed that she was worried about the class because she, as hard as it was to believe, just didn’t read. She said the class opened her eyes up to the joy of reading and she would never be the same teacher again. Wow!
Teachers are passionate about what they teach. It’s like having a love affair with a new vocabulary word that you can hardly wait to tell your students. There is a strong relationship between the amount of passion a teacher exudes and the amount of learning that takes place. A teacher’s passion rubs off on students and these are the students when asked who their favorite teacher was will usually cite those that were most passionate about what they taught.
A long, long time ago I wrote a column where I mentioned that the thing I missed most about my old high school after I graduated was the smell. The first thing that I notice when I walk into a school is the smell. I want it to be a warm inviting smell. I remember walking into Red Lake High School and being greeted by the inviting smell of what we would have for lunch. Our cooks often made homemade meals including rolls and buns. It was as if the school became a kitchen and learning would take place around a kitchen table. Not a bad idea. Crazy, right?
I always said the craziest teachers were always the best teachers because you have to be a bit crazy to be a good teacher. That’s about the only way you can survive 55 years of teaching. See you at the football games.
Riddle: Speaking of food, I have to tell you my favorite riddle even though I have told it a million times. It’s a good riddle to tell your kids on the first day of school. “What’s the difference between boogers and broccoli? (Kids don’t like broccoli.) If you tell a riddle a day, you will have a better year. That’s a guarantee.
100 percent graduation
We now have 270 organizations who support the 100% community initiative. The most recent supporters include: John’s Bow Shop, Northern Rides Paint and Collision, Todavich Electric, Superior Woodworks, WM Waste Management and Northwoods Lumber.
Teachers can help their students graduate when they:
- Put passion into their teaching.
- Regularly communicate with parents.
- Attend school activities.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.