My friend and Teaching Elder, Marc Alan Schelske, posts a question of the day on his Facebook page.
Question of the Day: Name a teacher who was really influential in your life and why. Extra Credit: How is your life different today because of them?
In thinking about my years as a student, two male teachers stood out to me. Here is my response:
There were two teachers who radically influenced me in my middle school years at Parkrose MS. The first was Eli Jimenez. He was a science teacher. I didn’t really like him or his class much. He wasn’t very outgoing or friendly. He was a bit strict and taciturn. He was the teacher who expected rules to be followed and taught by the book. I vaguely recall being uncomfortable and not feeling like he cared about me, as a student, but being quite passionate about wanting us to learn the material he taught.
I’d moved to Portland the previous year, after Spring Break and well into the Spring term. I’d moved from Texas and definitely sounded like I was a Texan with my twangy drawl. I’d come into the sixth grade classroom, all Texan bravado, and loudly greeted my classmates with, “Hi y’all! Where do I put my junk?” There was raucous laughter from many of the other students. However, there was one girl who took an instant and active dislike to me. Retrospectively, I suppose she was someone who had experienced racism and bullying herself, since she was probably the largest girl in the school in both height and weight, in addition to being the only dark skinned person in the classroom. She bullied me the remainder of that year and continued the behavior when we started seventh grade.
One day, I’d had enough. When she confronted me in the hallway during a passing and break period. It was after my mom had signed guardianship over to her brother, gone back to Texas and committed suicide a few months later. I didn’t really feel as if any adult actually cared about me and what I was experiencing. Somehow, I had reached a point where I realized no one was going to ever stand up for me or protect me. If it was going to happen, I was going to have to do it for myself.
So, when Molly stopped in front of me in the hall, maybe saying something threatening and mean, instead of putting my head down – or perhaps after having tried to put my head down and move around her, unsuccessfully – she put her hands on my chest, just below the shoulders, menacing me. Somehow, I brought my hands up, in between her arms and knocked them away. This happened one or two more times. A circle of taunting students formed around us. I was terrified, but determined. I was fairly certain I would either be going home or to the hospital, beaten and bruised, if not bloody.
Just at that point, Mr. Jimenez came to see what all the ruckus was about. He broke up the circle, sent Molly away, maybe to the Principal’s office, and took me gently, but firmly by the back of a shoulder and escorted me to the counseling office.
At that point, I think I started thinking that maybe there were adults who cared what happened to me. I just remember experiencing great relief that he’d rescued me from certain harm.
I think having someone I didn’t particularly care for and who I didn’t believe cared for me, rescue me and protect me was a foundational reason why, despite never truly feeling attached or cared about at various churches and other social communities, I still continued to visit and attend various churches and involve myself in different organizations, always trying to give people the benefit of the doubt to show me that I mattered, even if I was uncomfortable and feeling out of place.
The second teacher was Mike Greenfield, the Spanish teacher. He was quirky, gangly, fun-loving, and adored bulldogs and Miss Piggy, he made learning fun, and loved his students. I felt safe in his classroom and accepted by him. I’d been teased throughout my life for being short and fat. Miss Piggy was a taunting name I had been called a lot. The fact that his room was decorated in posters, celebrating both Miss Piggy and bulldogs, a short, stocky, and what I thought of as an unattractive/ugly breed of dog (both things I felt about myself) was subtly, but significantly influential in re-shaping what and how I thought about myself throughout the years. He was the teacher whose former students, either high school or college aged would sporadically and unexpectedly drop in to say hello and visit. I looked him up years later, after I had my second child and was working with teen parents, one of whom was a student at Parkrose HS. I discovered he’d moved over to the high school. Like his other former students, I visited his classroom. He was always happy to see me, welcoming me with hugs, smiles, and laughter. He showed me and told me he was proud of me, never criticizing or judging me for having dropped out of high school, running away, becoming a teen mom myself and not finishing college. I felt like he saw me as a success story. The first and only influential adult in my life who had known me when. I now believe that he was the one and only example of unconditional love I experienced in the first 25 years of my life.
These two men, are the only two men I think I ever felt safe, protected, and cared about throughout my young life.
In our world today, male teachers can frequently experience suspicion and stigma because of the negative media attention surrounding those who abuse their power, position, and authority – breaking the trust, spirits, and innocence of those they are charged with teaching, coaching, and leading. Seldom, do you hear about the ones who go about their lives and their jobs nurturing and caring for the children they see more than many of the children’s parents see them.
Often, these teachers can be the only constructive and caring male the children and youth they teach know and experience. I don’t think teachers truly get the credit and acknowledgement they deserve. I believe that is even more true of the decent and caring male teachers who are out there.
Can you think of a male teacher in your life or your children’s lives who makes or made a constructive impact in your world? Please share the experience and celebrate him in the comments here or over on Marc’s Facebook page. Then, try to let him know directly.