Wednesday, March 19, 2008

i love oregon, part III

Gatke Hall, home of the MAT program.
Willamette University
Salem, Oregon

The excuse I used to take a mini-vacation to Oregon was that there was an MAT reunion at Willamette University, where I received my Master of Arts in Teaching degree in 1992. Two of my favorite and most influential professors were going to be there. I wanted to look them in the eyes and say, "Thank you." Not simply for their instruction, but for creating an exceptional program that turned out not just teachers, but thoughtful, intelligent, creative leaders.

The first, John Tenny, made me buy my first computer in 1991. It was one of the requirements of the program. He insisted on a Macintosh LC. I remember that all the elementary schools still had Apple IIe's at that time. I borrowed $4,000 from the Federal Government Student Loan Program to purchase it! I thought my mother would die.

John was a rare bird. We thought it strange that this "old guy" (when you're 24, anyone over 30 seems ancient) was not only embracing computers, but evangelizing about them. Sometimes we thought he was a bit nuts, but his enthusiasm, combined with our discoveries of what was possible, ultimately won us over. We were using lesson plan templates, a grading program, and learning to make spreadsheets and data graphs (in color!) long before any of our contemporaries. Oh my did we MAT students ever impress our cooperating teachers!

John Tenny saw the future. And although his prediction that Macintosh would forever rule the world of education eventually came to an end, his vision of the potential of the computer to connect people would serve us well into the world of email and blogging. Yet with all his love of technology, one of his favorite phrases, and one I always remember in a crisis, was "There's a low-tech answer to every high-tech question."

The other, Rich Biffle, taught Classroom Management. It wasn't about discipline, but about how to arrange desks, distribute materials, build a community of learners, and then, if need be, deal proactively with any issues that might arise. He reminded us every day that our calling was noble and sacred.

Rich taught with a style and grace and compassion I had never before encountered in a college professor. I still repeat two of his oft-spoken mantras to anyone who I think might appreciate them. The first and most important thing he preached was that we could do anything we wanted within our four walls as long as we learned how to "finesse the system". This phrase has lived in my radical teacher soul for the past 15 years, and served me well on in so many instances. The second phrase, still so timely, is this: "There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals." Yeah, think about it. For awhile.

I was one of the last ones remaining after the luncheon, talking with them about old times and new ventures.

John is developing new software for educators.
Rich is teaching at the University of Hilo in Hawaii.

After saying thank you and before saying good-bye, I asked if they would be so kind as to take a picture with me. I fished my camera out of my bag, turned it on, and the blue screen read "battery empty" and the damn thing beeped the most horrendous ear-shattering beep. I wanted to cry. Luckily, there was another couple still milling about who had a camera and were taking photos, so I asked them if they would please, please, please take a photo and email it to me. It arrived in my inbox today.

Good teachers, I mean really good teachers, stay with us forever. My husband and I have both had the experience of students who have contacted us from their futures to express some sort of gratitude. It's usually for something so simple and forgotten as placing a book in a hand or sowing the seed of an idea. If you know one of those teachers, please hunt them down and tell them a story. Say thank you. Let them know it mattered.

And you don't need a $4,000 computer to do it.


Jim Thomsen said...

I go drinking once or twice a year with one of my favorite college journalism professors, who retired out to this area several years ago. Great guy. I buy.

Great story, too. And a most attractive ensemble.

Colorado Wilsons said...

Just today I received one of those thank yous from a former student. It was a blessing to read that I left a positive mark in his life because he forever changed my life and my desire to help more kids.

Rebecca said...

I remember when I was in my 3rd year of college, I was taking education classes with an eye to teaching high school literature (which i did not ultimately do). I sat in on my HS British Lit teacher's class, as he was such an influence on me. He not only made DH Lawrence, Graham Greene and Thomas Hardy come alive, he made ME come alive. He beamed that I returned. One of the few that saw the intellect within the rebel. Where ever Mr. Supp is, I wish him well!

ProfSeeman said...

You make some good points above.
However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
Go to:

If you get this book and video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems, [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and the video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

If you cannot get them, email me anyway and I will try to help.
Best regards,


Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus,
City Univ. of New York
20 River Court
Suite 1404
Jersey City, NJ 07310

Book, Training Video/CD:
Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems
The Educator's Support Forum

suesun said...

Lucky for me, professor, I teach adults now who all love coming to class and I have virtually 0 discipline problems!

Rebecca-I love that line about "making ME come alive." Education is a process of transformation, not just the transmission of knowledge.

Thanks for commenting, colorado wilsons! I've been meaning to ask you again for your blog address, and now I've got it.

reliv4life said...

Inspirational!! It is so true how much those good teachers impact us throughout our entire lives. Wonder if I can even find any of my favorites? I think it is worth looking into though, thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fantastic trip!

Maria said...

I teach part time college, and I swear I STILL have discipline problems. There is always that one girl who sits in the back with her friend and will NOT stop whispering and you know it isn't about the material being lectured on.

So...maybe I'll get the damn book...

But, seriously, isn't it great to have inspiring teachers? My high school English teacher made me fall in love with Shakespeare.

My partner teaches high school and she often has former students stop her in stores, etc. She amazingly remembers their names. I think this is astonishing as she regularly forgets her cell phone at home and can't remember our own phone number.