Friday, December 28, 2007

Good idea: appreciating high school science teachers

Over at Apparent Dip, Thermochronic writes about appreciating his high school chemistry teacher, and suggests taking a moment to contact the teachers who influenced us and tell them so.

I graduated from high school 23 years ago, and a lot of the teachers who influenced me have retired. And the teachers who helped me most were a high school history teacher, and a sixth grade everything (including very good science) teacher.

Miss H. knows, I think, that she influenced me more than any of the other teachers in my high school. (At some point my college sent something to teachers that had influenced us. I don't remember the context, but I remember that Miss H. sent me a wonderful letter thanking me for mentioning her.) Miss H. taught history, but that wasn't all she taught. She started Ancient (European) History in the Paleozoic - despite, as I later learned, having found her introductory geology class incredibly boring. I suspect that there was some tension amongst the teachers about the unwillingness of either the biology or earth science teachers to teach things like evolution and the age of the earth. So a history teacher took up the slack. She also taught me to write research papers, and had us read historically relevant English literature (A Tale of Two Cities and Animal Farm). She pushed me to think, and to be goofily enthusiastic about intellectual pursuits. And that was as important for doing science as learning the content was.

Mrs. S. taught my sixth grade class - everything except social studies, if I remember correctly. She was the one who first told me to "tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them." (I told her that sounded stupid. I was punished for mouthing off, but I remembered the lesson in the end.) But what I really remember was a very creative physics/engineering lesson. We had to build something and - I don't remember whether we explained it to the class, or made a poster about it, or wrote a paper about it. But, anyway, my project involved transformers. (Not the toys - they, ummm, didn't exist yet then.) That was where I learned the relationship between electricity and magnetism. That project is the entire reason why I can trouble-shoot machines at all. I still think about it when I try to explain the earth's magnetic field, or when I read an explanation of how plasma is formed in our ICP, or when my car won't start. It was the first time a teacher had had me build something with wires and magnets and... well, it was really cool. I was rarely asked to create things with my hands (other than neat handwriting) - it was wonderful to be practical as well as theoretical.

Neither of them are teaching in the district any more. My mother might know how to contact them - so here's my appreciation, in public.

No comments: