Motivation for Teachers

So…quite a while back, one of the people I used to teach with out at Allen County, Tom, picked up a second Master’s degree.  Tom used to teach Psychology and coach both the men’s and women’s track programs before going over to the Dark Side (college administration).

When he got his degree, he put a picture up on Facebook and mentioned one of the motivations he had–a teacher from high school.  Now, before you start thinking, “Awwww…”, this “teacher” told Tom before he graduated high school that Tom couldn’t cut it, wouldn’t ever amount to anything.

So let me ask a rhetorical question here: WHAT THE CRAP SORT OF TEACHER IS THAT???

For the record, Tom (who wasn’t going to amount to much) now has a couple advanced degrees, an award for teaching, an award for administrating (I’ll avoid my usual admin-type comment here), out of HS earned a track scholarship, emphasized the STUDENT part of student-athlete, and then somehow found a nice woman to marry him and have some kids with him (seriously, that last part is not made up–Tom’s pictures are not photoshopped…he did not pay anyone to pose with him).

It’s been several years, but I realize why he was the way he was as a teacher–why he was positive when dealing with students, even the ones who didn’t get it and really struggled. It made me wonder–do all good teachers have that negative role-model in their past?

I know I had a couple.  I still keep the journal comments written to me by an English “teacher”.  Now, you could make the argument that “Hey, she’s just trying to motivate you”–fair enough.  Let’s assume that’s true (for her or Tom’s former teacher).  That doesn’t change the horrid method.  Why would you take a teenager and break them down or insult them?  In that situation–you’re the teacher.  Your job is to work to get through to a kid, maybe empathize with them because whether it’s 1985, 1995, or 2019, it is not easy being 16 years old.

But do those words look motivating or inspiring?  As a parent, teacher, and coach, I avoid the D-word (disappointed) as much as possible.  I think I’ve used it twice with my children in the past decade, and as a coach, if I use it with athletes, I always make sure to differentiate between ‘small-d disappointed’ and ‘big’D’.  It’s a powerful word–and it almost always hurts feelings.  Adults know that, so why, as a teacher, wield it like a sledgehammer?

I’d rather focus on the positive–whether in the classroom or not.

*Long ago, I got banned from my high school’s campus, not allowed to sit there while my friends and/or former classmates graduated.  The principal said my presence would ‘disrespect authority’…whatever that means.  After that, two teachers went to him and said that if he held to that, they’d resign on the spot.  Think about that…two teachers standing up for a former student, not even a current one,  both willing to put their jobs on the line for it.  Those were Mrs. Strohm and Mr. Valus.  It’s been 34 years and I’ve never forgotten that.

*Go back further, and I remember Mrs. Loula, my 6th grade teacher, working things out so that me and Steve Pedersen could take math separately with the 7th grade.  At the time I didn’t think anything about that…I mean, you’re 11-12 years old, right?  Ahh–but I’ve taught now.  Having two students leave for a different class at a certain hour disrupts lesson plans to an insane end!–because if we are leaving during Reading for Math–then you’ve got to do a Prep so that we can do Reading while everyone else is doing Math.  There aren’t a ton of teachers out there willing to take that extra extra step for just two students.

*Todd Francis–teaches Chemistry, even during the summer, but then donates his time to coach Allen Community College‘s Scholar Bowl team, as well as work as an assistant for the volleyball team.  That’s a lot of time and effort–especially since he doesn’t HAVE to do any of that extra work.  Todd would say he does it for the money…but that’s because he’s a crusty old fart with a crappy golf game.  The reality is that inside–he cares a ton about his students (and truth be told, I feel that way about almost every faculty member I knew working out there).

*Richard Kottman–everybody other than me, Dave Pieart, and Chris Libby despised Kottman, and Kottman relished that.  I got the worst grade ever in a History class with him, and I learned more there than in any other class in college.  I learned that teachers SHOULD push students, should maintain the highest standards for what constitutes an “A”, and that we shouldn’t compromise those values under any circumstances.

In the end, I keep that journal with my “teacher’s” comments for specific motivation–that when I teach, when I coach, I will never ever EVER be like that with a young person, not even when those young people try and cause trouble or are failing at life–because I need to be there to help them, to offer a hand.  Otherwise, I’d much rather focus on the good teaching I see.  Most teachers, most principals, are good people and are in education to help make this world a better place.  That’s the truth.

Tom?  I think he’s the exact same–he’s motivated to be a great teacher because he doesn’t want anyone to go through what he did.

Who are your role-models?  Who motivated you?  Why?  Is it because of what they did right?  Or are they negative examples like the ones mentioned above?