Occasionally in conversation, someone tells a story about a teacher they had who turned them off a particular subject or activity forever with just one sharp remark or action. I have such a story, too, but the ending is different.
I attended a two-room elementary school with grades 1-4 together in one room and grades 5-8 in the other. Mrs. Gibbs was the teacher for grades 1-4. I always finished my homework as quickly as possible during the school day, so that I had free time to pull out my paper and crayons and draw. It was my reward to myself!
One afternoon during 4th grade, I was so engrossed in drawing a tree (yes, I still remember that it was a tree), that I didn’t notice Mrs. Gibbs had walked up behind me. She suddenly barked “What are you doing, drawing and coloring? That’s for first-graders! Are you a first-grader? You pick up your colors and go sit with the first-graders for the rest of the day!”
I was shocked! I had no idea what I’d done to deserve such a rebuke, and tears welled up. Back-talk was not tolerated, though–this was in the era when every schoolteacher had a paddle–so I hastily gathered my pencil, colors and paper tablet and moved to an empty desk among the first-graders. All the other students were surprised, too, and none dared to say anything. There was no laughter as I obeyed.
This is the point where most people’s story ends with “And I never drew/sang/liked arithmetic/read aloud/jumped rope/spoke up again.” But I finished that tree.
Mrs. Gibbs retired at the end of that year. It’s a good thing. That was the kind of incident that squelches creativity, interest and learning in too many children. If I wasn’t so stubborn and so eager to draw, it might have done me in, too.
I sometimes wonder how many people’s entire life trajectory was changed by a bad incident with a teacher. I hope some of them find their way back through a positive experience later on.
Followup Aug. 24: check out this TED talk–it’s what I’m talking about!