Recently, a high school classmate of mine brought my attention to a blog post that she had come across that applauded the efforts and effectiveness of our Honors Chemistry teacher, Dr. B. This post, which I will not link to because I do not wish to bring her full name into this, was in honor of Ada Lovelace Day, honoring women in science and engineering. The author was happy to write about his favorite high school teacher and how much she had inspired him in his own science career.
The interesting thing to both myself and my former classmate is that Dr. B had left a very different memory in our minds. In my career, I have often told stories about her when talking to new teachers about how not to teach science. My experience in Dr. B’s classroom was one of intimidation and a feeling of worthlessness. I even wrote one of my college essays about her, talking about how she made us to feel like we were not worthy of being in her classroom, and that we should feel honored to light the same Bunsen burners as she.
My classmate had an even rougher time with Dr. B. Because of living in the “wrong zip code” (a quote from the teacher herself), my friend was literally bullied in her class, not by students, but by the teacher. We assume this was an effort to get her to drop the class, which was not required for graduation at the time.
The result of our experience with Dr. B? I dropped the class at semester. Even though I was earning a very difficult to achieve B, I could not stand to watch how she treated my classmates. I had walked into her classroom fully intending to be a Chemistry major in college. The day I walked out of her classroom would be the last time I set foot in a science classroom for over 12 years. My friend used her experience with this teacher as a springboard, determined to do well in spite of what this teacher believed.
We both ended up as educators, and my friend will begin pharmacy school this year – always pursuing what she knows to be possible for herself, despite being told otherwise.
What I get from this experience is this: the perspective of each individual student is important. If some of my students thought I was awesome and some of my students thought I was awful, I need to be sure of what my role in that “awful” was. Obviously, Dr. B did inspire many students over the years – the notes left on her online obituary earlier this year attest to that. Did something change before we walked into her classroom to change her teaching style? Did she always treat different students in different ways? We will never know.
We do know that we did learn from her. It may not have been what she intended for us to learn, but we did learn from her.
What are your students learning from you?