Good teaching – Bad teaching – Good studenting – Bad studenting
- Good teaching?
Looking back at my life as a student, which I must point out started over 50 years ago, I have fond memories of three GREAT teachers. I cannot remember “good” teachers, since none has stood the test of time. The teachers that remain a part of my flash-bulb memories are the special ones that contributed to who I was and have become. The very first of these teachers was my 5th grade teacher at the McCutcheon School of Chicago, a public school located at the end of my street. The year was 1970 which is important because there were no special education teachers in the Chicago school system. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) had only recognized ADHD as a mental disorder a few years before and it was not until years later that disabilities like this were recognized in the public-school system. This is important because, as I learned 30 years later, I suffered from ADHD as a child, which had its impact on me as a student. Mr. McCormick, the great 5th grade teacher, was a special man of many talents. Being one of the first African American teachers educated at Chicago’s (Jane) Hull House (University of Chicago) he had an acute awareness of children with learning disabilities and quickly recognized my needs when I joined his classroom. He went on to become the principal of the school years later.
The next great educator in my life came some years later when I entered St. John’s Military Academy, a room and board college prep school located in Delafield, Wisconsin. My transition to SJMA in 1975 was an extremely important one since I was still untreated for ADHD and needed more parenting than my parents were able to give me. The first half of my freshman year in high school was at the Nicholas Senn High School on the far north side of Chicago. I played hooky most of the semester and had a 1-day drug event that put me in a mild coma. My parents knew I had an interest in the military and arranged for me to attend SJMA mid-year. The most important person on the staff of the school who had the greatest influence on me was Sargent Major William E. Golden, who we called “Smadge”. It was Smadge who taught me to stand up for myself, or in the case of one bully, he told me to take advantage of my size and sit on the other kid if he caused me any grief. Not only did it stop the kid, but his parents pulled him out of school that weekend. School was much better after that day.
|One of my fellow students penned this caricature of the two of us. I can still hear his South Carolina drawl to this day. Smadge had the combined gift, not only of leadership and command due to his military career but he was also a caring father who believed in the difference between right and wrong and did not put up with bullies.|
The next person who falls into this special category of the “great” teachers was Pam Pauly who taught Voice and Movement at Columbia College in Chicago. Pam was a professional voice coach who came to our school after a successful career, coaching actors on Broadway in New York City and film actors in Hollywood. Her claim to fame was having discovered the hidden voice talents of Barbra Streisand. Like the other great teachers in my life, Pam had the love for teaching, the love for her students (at least the ones who cared) and the belief in what she taught. I learned techniques from her in 1979 that I remember to this day. I managed to stay in touch with both Sargent Major Golden and Pam Pauly for years after but lost touch with Mr. McCormick. Unfortunately, all three are now deceased.
- Bad teaching?
As a student with a learning disability, I never understood if a teacher was bad since I figured I was to blame for most of my problems. In hindsight I can look back and consider that I had many lousy teachers who never had the sense to recognize a student in need such as Mr. McCormick did in 5th grade. My first teaching assignment was as an adjunct in a University in Russia. The Director of the Department of English was in it for the money. In fact, he would not let me grade anything less than an “A” for a student. This was truly uncanny when, of 26 students in my international business class, all but one copied their papers from a website. Where I would have given 25 failing grades for cheating, he insisted on straight A’s. What made it even more special was that one of the papers submitted was a paper I had written while attending Columbia College almost twenty years earlier.
A couple of years ago, after being laid off from a career job of nearly 15 years, someone suggested I become a short-term substitute teacher. In the first 4 months as a substitute teacher, I had the chance to co-teach with many teachers across 15 schools in Jefferson County and 1 school in Morgan County. Both Jefferson and Morgan County were blessed with talented teachers, but I only came across a couple of teachers that are worth writing about here. Although I think I am a great communicator with students, where I draw the line on bad teaching is more in the behavioral area, not the teaching capability of the teacher.
My first “bad teaching” experience was in my first week as a substitute teacher in 2015. I was substitute teaching for a special education teacher who co-taught two periods each day with a high school history teacher. During our brief time together, he exhibited behaviors, which I knew were not acceptable. One of these was watching a Ukrainian marriage site on his laptop during class time. I was not prepared to turn him in for this since their were no naked or partially naked women on the website and did not want to be responsible for ending a teachers career. I was concerned however with his requiring a female student to sit near his desk while the other students gathered on the other side of the classroom. I asked him why she was sitting there, and his reasoning just did not sit right with me. I had to pick up my ID badge after school that day and while there I asked to sit down with someone in the HR Department to whom I reported my concerns. A colleague at the Board of Education told me later that my report put the final nail in his coffin as a teacher. This teacher was a Holocaust denier among other things. Fortunately, I can’t recall other teachers that I would classify as being bad.
The second issue came from overhearing a conversation between students while waiting for a class to begin. I carefully got into the conversation to understand if what I heard involved possible misbehavior by a school coach toward students. What I heard was bad enough for me to report the teacher to the Assistant Principal who dealt with him. I don’t know if he was reprimanded for what he was doing but at least I made the report in an attempt to further protect the students.
- Good studenting?
As I have mentioned above, I suffered from ADHD throughout my entire school history including community college and four years of university. Few of these years were anything I would be proud. The good years were when I was at St. John’s for college-prep and my one and a half years at Columbia College. I was never a great text-book learner in school. Fortunately, I did have teachers who were willing to teach using out-of-the-box techniques which have impacted my own methods of teaching today.
As I learned in my first semester at Columbia College, I had a great love for researching and writing. I liked writing term-papers. I wish I had known this when I was younger, but the realization did materialize until that first semester in community college. The class was for creative writing and with minimal guidance from the teacher I chose to write a history of Chicago Theatre from the earliest days up until the final performance before the Great Chicago Fire that started on October 8, 1871. I had to use a typewriter and recall having to retype entire pages for my final two copies. In 1979 we did not have access to copying machines or personal computer technologies. I still have one of the copies and the other is in the Chicago Historical Association Library.
- Bad studenting?
Again, I need to blame untreated ADHD. The mere fact that it is now well under control, thanks in part to maturation and age, I love being a student more than I can ever remember when I was younger. I honestly cannot remember anything that I would attribute to be a bad student. There was certainly a list of schools that refused to let me return for the following year. I attended a private parochial school in 1st to 4th grades. Because I could not learn a required foreign language I was not allowed to return in 5th grade. Fortunately, I had Mr. McCormick at McCutcheon School to take care of getting me through 5th and into 6th grade. My parents enrolled me at a private K-12 school for my 6th through 8th grades but they too were not impressed with my behavior or school work and did not take me back for high school. The positive side of my 3 years was that I developed friendships I have kept to this very day.
Although not a good habit, I also learned how to smoke cigarettes as it was taught to me by two sons of a famous local mafioso who was gunned down one day in his driveway. His sons were pulled out of school that day. Thanks to social media I reconnected with one of the sons a couple of years ago and have spoken on occasion. They both became lawyers.
My parents pretty much gave up on trying to keep me in private schools and told me I was on my way to public high school. I only went to a single day of classes at Nicholas Senn High School in the fall semester of 1978 until I had a drug overdose and then stayed home until I was enrolled at SJMA after Christmas. I skipped nearly every day of classes when I was enrolled at Senn. I have zero memories of being in the building or a single classroom. The freshman class in 1974 seemed like it was over 1000 kids. I do remember being scared to death to step into the building, so I spent most of my time hiding out at the neighborhood Jack in the Box fast food restaurant across from the school. I befriended members of the local police force who chose not to turn me in. My father was a well know former legislator in the area and may have influenced why they looked after me, some of the time. They spent a lot of time in the Jack in the Box as well. There were also a group of kids who lived nearby who also skipped school quite a bit but were also into the drug scene. These kids regularly invited me to go to their houses to party. They let me hang out with them because I was still an active cigarette smoker at the time.
One day I finally gave in to their peer pressure and visited a brownstone walkup just a couple of blocks from school. After an unspecified time dropping pills and smoking hash, I left the apartment house and walked back toward the Jack in the Box hangout. Feeling extremely sick and completely stoned, I went to the back of an area car wash and fell asleep in the snow. Fortunately, I was wearing a long army field coat that kept me warm. I woke up to the sound of men talking with each other about me. One guy asked another if I was alive. The period after getting up from the back of the car wash until I was standing in front of my house ringing the doorbell is a complete blank. I remember my mother taking me upstairs to my bedroom and putting many blankets on top of me since I complained to her that I was very cold. I woke up 64 hours later. That was my last pill popping and marijuana experience. On occasion, I have recalled this event when speaking with area youth who get into trouble with drugs or are fantasizing about using them.