It’s a worthwhile endeavor to reach back in time and remember teachers who made a difference in our lives. What was it about them that made them so memorable? What did they do that applies to the success of our own professional lives? Skilled educators use techniques that savvy professionals can emulate to train and to lead.
My first & life-long educator
I had four teachers whom I remember fondly who created a love of language and writing for me. My first teacher and the best teacher I ever had was my mother. She was so smart; she was the salutatorian of her high school class and was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend one year of college to obtain a teaching certificate. She was always available if I needed help with my studies, but teaching the English language was her forte and love. I remember when the topic of word syllables came up in my early education; it just wasn’t sinking in. She sat down with me, and in a short time, I understood the subject well. She knew grammar and was always my best resource when I had questions. She had infinite patience and the ability to break down a topic into easily understood modules.
Grade school memories
My favorite grade school teacher was Miss Natzke. I was fortunate to have had her as a teacher for first and third grades. In the small parochial school that I attended, teachers would often teach two grades at once. Half of the second grade class was in my first grade classroom. After that year, Miss Natzke moved up a rung and taught the other half of second grade and all of third grade. She had her hands full, but the trait that I remember most about her was her compassion. She cared deeply about each student and found time to address the needs of everyone. She gave me a strong educational foundation, and I discovered a love for learning in those two years with Miss Natzke.
High school inspiration
In high school, I met Mrs. Brown in tenth grade English. Her focus was writing, and I learned so much from her. She challenged me at the same time that she inspired me. I loved writing for her even though I was not at the top of the class and recognized that I had much to learn. My essays were not covered with red ink because she knew that the best way to effect change was to zero in on the most critical items that could be improved. She also was collaborative. One time she asked if anyone in the class would like to create bulletin boards about English topics. I loved the creative aspect of that idea and volunteered. I had to study a topic and condense it into small, meaningful messages that could be displayed. It meant staying after school in her classroom to put up the bulletin boards, and I enjoyed getting to know her as a genuinely good person as well as an effective teacher.
Finally, in college, I was lucky to have had several very influential teachers, but the top was Miss Moehl. As an English major, I took quite a few classes from her. I had the utmost respect for her even though she was a tough teacher and demanded the best from her students. I didn’t always get A’s from her, but I learned so much. One particularly challenging class was Transformational-Generative Grammar, which she creatively taught making a difficult (and, yes, slightly dry) topic interesting. She demanded interaction in her classes, but with her leadership, staying on task was rewarding. I was well-prepared for some of the difficult linguistics classes I took in graduate school. I had the good fortune to be selected to be her assistant my senior year. I read all of her freshman class essays, adding comments in pencil in the margins. She also read all of these essays and was helpful in critiquing my evaluations, an excellent preparation for my years as a teacher. She had practical suggestions such as writing comments in pencil so that the red marks would not overwhelm students. She recommended I limit suggestions to the most pertinent and most glaring flaws. I learned much about what made a great teacher from Miss Moehl, and we corresponded for several decades after my graduation.
Beyond the classroom
So, how does all this apply to a person’s professional life? “The Best Leaders Are Great Teachers,” is the title of an article by Sydney Finkelstein writing for the Harvard Business Review in the January-February 2018 issue. The qualities and skills that you might have recognized and admired in your teachers are the same qualities and skills that a successful business leader needs. Being able to break down a topic into manageable segments is as valid for the classroom teacher as it is for a supervisor or leader. While being empathetic is a good trait, showing compassion is even more critical when working with students as well as employees. Creating a passion for growing and learning works with people at all levels. And, finally, working together, or being collaborative, serves to inspire and to create respect and efficiency.
Writing this has been a wonderful exercise for me to revisit the memories of some of the people who made the most difference in my life and whose traits I tried to emulate in my professional life.
Diane Repass is a retired tenured assistant professor
from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved
writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from
The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.