By Steve Maanum of Park Rapids
Even though I retired from teaching in 2007, there is not a month that goes by that I do not think back to the groups of students that entered my classroom. Over the years, class sizes varied. I had as few as 22 students and as many as 34, but no matter what the size was, each group had its own personality. All the teachers I taught with had their own personalities too, and those personalities were reflected in their teaching styles. Think back to your favorite teachers during your school years. What qualities made them stand out?
Experience taught me that no two students learn in the exact same way, and no two teachers teach in the exact same way. I was always serious about my subject matter and my role to present it in clear and meaningful ways, but I also tried to blend it with a lighter approach that kept my students’ attention and made learning enjoyable for them.
To survive, a teacher must learn to adapt to unscheduled changes and take interruptions in stride. If you are a regular follower of this column, you may remember a previous story about a mouse that chose to visit my science class one winter day. If you missed it, you may be able to find it on the Sr. Perspective web page (srperspective.com) to find out how I handled that situation.
In the early 1980s, I was teaching 7th and 8th grade English. If you want a challenge, try teaching the parts of speech to teenagers. We were into our second week of grammar, attention spans were decreasing, and I needed a lesson to renew the interest level of my students.
Sometimes, an answer comes knocking. My two sisters decided they would surprise me by dropping into my classroom for a visit. It was certainly a surprise, but not the kind they had in mind.
When there is a knock at the classroom door, it is really nothing unusual or upsetting. I do not think my sisters realized that, so when I opened my door and they greeted me with their bright smiles and an announcement of “Surprise!” they assumed I would jump up and down, or scream with delight, or lose my composure and not be able to continue my English lesson.
They were wrong. I simply said, “Oh hi guys, can you stick around until I finish class?” I then closed the door and went back to teaching. That was not the reaction they expected. Ten minutes later, when the class was over, and the students left, my sisters were still standing in the hallway, half shocked at my earlier reaction.
I asked if they could join me for my last class of the day, and they informed me that was their reason for driving 200 miles. I motioned to the back of the room and told them to sit in the two empty desks, and I would make the introductions when the students came in.
Well, after the eighth graders were seated and I took attendance, I introduced our distinguished guests, but not as my sisters. I made up their resumes as I went along. In my August 2019 column I told readers about how my older sister had hidden my home-made speargun right before our family vacation, forcing me to get creative and use a wiener fork in my attempts to stab fish. I had been waiting for the right opportunity to get even with her and it just presented itself.
To her surprise, I introduced her as the Director of Education from Washington D.C., and I introduced my younger sister (who had never given me any reason for revenge) as an education major from a renowned eastern university. I added that they were both touring the country and stopping by schools to view examples of public education. It was all a spontaneous and diabolical kind of fib. My sisters were too shocked to comment, and my students were too impressed to misbehave.
The day’s lesson was on adverbs, and as students located the descriptive words from the sentences on the black board, I interjected comments like, “I’m sure that Mrs. Weber has dealt with adverbs and the other parts of speech in her college classes, but way back when Mrs. Turbes was in school, I doubt that the parts of speech had even been identified yet.”
I continued with little jabs like that throughout the class period, and then during the last five minutes I finally introduced my sisters properly and thanked them for being silent partners in my deception. Come to think of it, that was the only time I can remember the two of them being silent for that length of time.
One of the students said, “I was wondering how you dared talk that way to someone from Washington, D. C.”
It may have been an unplanned and unorthodox way of teaching adverbs, but it was effective. The students paid attention, became proficient at finding adverbs, and enjoyed the lighter side of grammar.
I am not sure, but I think I may have finally gotten even with my older sister. What I am sure of is that neither sister ever made a return visit to my classroom.