FORREST ROBINETTE ’16
As I look back at my life, I realize how fortunate I am to have had many great teachers throughout my education. We often overlook how much a great teacher can, and often does, impact our lives and who we are. Every one of us can look back at our time in elementary or high school and remember at least one wonderful teacher who inspired us and made us passionate about something. It seems that a single great teacher can inspire a life-long love of a subject. It also seems evident that a single bad teacher can create a life-long distaste for a field of study.
I remember very specifically the first teacher I had who really made a difference in my life. Her name was Mrs. Bigelow and she was my history teacher in sixth grade. During the beginning of the year, we were studying the Sumerian culture. In ancient times, the Sumerians used clay tablets for record keeping and developed the earliest known system of writing called cuneiform. Mrs. Bigelow organized a project with the art department that allowed us to write our own cuneiform records on clay tablets. She even brought in reeds so that we could use them as styluses, just as the Sumerians did. In doing this, she made learning both engaging and a ton of fun. That project made me feel like I was in Babylon all those years ago writing as the ancients wrote. To this day, I still remember the cuneiform symbol for mountain. This is a completely worthless skill in everyday life, but it shows that what she taught us stuck with us and inspired us to keep learning. It was that class that instilled in me a love for history that I still cherish today. Mrs. Bigelow, by going the extra mile in teaching, allowed her students to immerse themselves in another time and another culture.
I share that anecdote to show that a good teacher can have a profound effect on any student. Unfortunately, a bad teacher can have a similarly profound effect as well. I can’t write cursive today because the teacher that tried to teach it to me was mean, impatient, and boring. Thankfully, being able to write cursive is not an extremely valuable skill in today’s society, but I still have a stigma about writing cursive. I have heard of many students who have difficulty with math because of thier past bad teachers. They aren’t just xinherently bad at the subject. Instead, they struggle because their past teachers never created a good learning foundation for their learning. That domino effect is one of the true dangers of bad teachers. If a math teacher doesn’t do his job correctly, then a student of his may later have difficulty in a physics class. Knowledge builds on itself and a person’s knowledge cannot reach any significant heights without a strong foundation.
I write this article to encourage everyone to recognize and commend the great teachers in your life. I also write this in the hopes that we will be less forgiving of bad teachers. The current ills of the education system are many, but the biggest issue appears to be the lack of good teachers and the excess of bad teachers. High drop out rates in high schools come about because many students are not being stimulated and engaged in learning. We’ve all heard about the horrors of tenure in which terrible teachers have no incentive to better their teaching because they are virtually immune to being fired. I hope that as the United States goes forward in repairing the troubled education system that we focus on the importance of having teachers who are passionate about what they do and who inspire that passion in their students.
One of the main reasons why we have so few good teachers is because teaching is such a low paying job. In today’s very difficult economy and work world, most people don’t set out dreaming of becoming a teacher. Teaching is an extremely noble and rewarding profession, but I’m sure there are many people out there who would make great teachers, but never become educators because they want a larger salary. In my opinion, this makes those who do choose to teach even more deserving of our respect. In high school, my English teacher, who was passionate and extremely knowledgeably about his subject, told me that he does it for the joy and reward of teaching. He says that of course everyone cares about how much money you make, but that in the end you have to really enjoy what you are doing.
Here at Trinity, we are so fortunate to have a great teaching staff. We have so many superb professors to enjoy and to help us on our academic journey. I have yet to have a bad professor while here. I’m sure many students will tell me that it is inevitable that I will have a bad professor soon. However, as of right now, each of my professors have challenged me, helped me, and cared about me. We often point out the many flaws of Trinity, but in my experience, our teaching staff is not one of those problems. I came here completely unsure of what I would major in or what I would do with my life. Recently, I have decided to major in English because I have had so many excellent English professors while at Trinity. They have inspired in me a passion for literature and it’s a passion that I intend to explore and pursue. For me, that is the mark of a great teacher: passion. Passionate teachers infect their students with an urge to learn more and keep exploring even beyond the limits of academia.
So all of this is to say that we should appreciate and cherish our great teachers because they have such a profound effect on who we are. If a professor has made a difference in your life, let them know that they have done so.