70: A Teacher’s Influence

70: A Teacher’s Influence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

A Teacher’s Influence

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

~William Arthur Ward

My experiences this past year as Nebraska State Teacher of the Year have prompted me to give much thought to why I became a teacher. My parents were my greatest supporters when I decided I wanted to become a teacher as a senior in high school. There were also a few teachers who encouraged me without even knowing it. I decided to locate Mr. Eloe, my junior high Industrial Arts teacher, to let him know what his teaching and his class meant to me.

I located Mr. Eloe in another state and left him a message. One Sunday evening a few weeks later, I answered the phone and immediately recognized a voice that I had not heard in over forty years. Mr. Eloe began with, “Hello Dan, how should I know you?” I explained to him who I was and told him he had taught me.

Mr. Eloe had instructed us in forming a company, guided us in coming up with a product (The Doll Fly), helped us to learn how to advertise, assisted us in purchasing our shares of stock, constructed an assembly line, and guided us in selling our products. Mr. Eloe told me that he had attended a summer workshop entitled “Innovative Approaches to Teaching Industrial Arts” and tried it out on us that school year. I still had three of my doll flies; however, they were too valuable to use fishing. I told Mr. Eloe that the doll fly unit was instrumental in leading me to a thirty-five year teaching career.

In reflecting, I can easily remember those students who I know I had an impact on throughout my teaching career, but now I think of all those students that I maybe had an impact on without realizing it. I only hope that I have been able to instill a passion for industrial technology education and for learning as was done for me by Mr. Eloe, even though he didn’t remember me.

One student who I know I helped, and whose name I still remember, was Bob. In the summer of 1976, I took a teaching job in a high school system with an enrollment of close to 1,000 students. I had taught just one year prior to this in a high school of approximately 150 students. So being a little anxious, I talked to some of the veteran teachers in my department about my class rosters. They looked at my student lists and when they arrived at Bob’s name there was a huge pause. Bob had gotten into serious trouble at the junior high school.

Throughout the first quarter in our class, I covered the various machines used in a woodworking shop by giving lectures, machine demonstrations, and safety tests to determine who would be allowed to use the machines. Because of the modular schedule our school was using, seven days would pass between my lecture and the machine safety test. Bob received scores in the teens on the first couple of tests. As I went over the tests in the class, I could see anger and disappointment building in Bob because of another failing grade. He wanted to use the machines and knew these tests were keeping him away from what he had enrolled in the class to do.

I called Bob in after class one day to talk to him about his low scores and to see what we could do together to improve his testing. I learned he had some definite chips on his shoulder because of earlier failures in his education. I tried reviewing with Bob individually before the next test, but he received the same results. So, Bob and I had another talk about giving me his best effort. I asked Bob what I could do to help. Bob replied, “Nothing.” For a freshman, Bob was tall and physically developed beyond his age, but that day I learned Bob had trouble even reading a comic book.

I was finally able to talk Bob into going down to the reading teacher with me so the three of us could develop a plan to help him with his work. For the next machine test, Bob agreed to go to the reading teacher’s room so she could read the test questions and record his responses. Bob scored an 85% on most tests after this and he was able to do this by just listening, because he would rarely take notes.

Bob and I developed a good working relationship and I seldom saw his angry side. Bob completed the required project and found a passion for using the woodworking lathe. On the lathe, he was able to turn his wood into bowls and took pride in making them for his mom, sisters, and aunts.

I stopped worrying about keeping my eye on Bob during lab. My only problem was to get him out of the woodworking shop and on to his next class. He preferred to keep working in the woods lab. One day Bob came into class to find me upset because someone had lost one of my lathe parts, which made it inoperable. Bob looked at me and without hesitation said, “Mr. McCarthy I know where your part went. I am not a stool pigeon and I won’t tell you who threw your part out the window, but your part is out there in the snow bank.”

I asked, “Bob, would you mind going out to get it for me?” He went right out and found the part and returned it to me.

I know that Bob has not always had an easy life since he left high school. Recently, I ran into Bob at a convenience store. It has now been some thirty years since Bob was in my class. He looked at me and said, “You don’t know who I am, do you?”

I said, “Sure I do. How are you doing, Bob? It has been a long time since I have seen you, so what have you been up to?” The biggest smile came across his face when he realized that I remembered him. We continued catching up with what each of us had been doing. I learned many of the bowls he had turned were still being cherished and used by his relatives today. Bob went on to express how amazed he was that I was still teaching. It was so good to learn he had his life on track and had a good position with a local concrete contractor.

Thanks to Bob, I learned very early in my teaching career that not all teachers relate the same to all students and not all students relate the same to all teachers. Without knowing it, Bob taught me that it is important to allow students the opportunity to show whether they can or cannot be trusted. With Bob’s help, I learned to form my opinions about my students based on their behavior and performance within my classroom rather than by listening to opinions of others based on their experiences and perceptions.

~Dan McCarthy
2009 Nebraska State Teacher of the Year
Industrial Technology teacher, grades 9-12

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