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My Favorite Teacher


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My favorite teacher was scary and mean -- but only in the eyes of those who had never been in her classroom. Those of us who were her students encouraged the rumors and bolstered our reputations for bravery, secure in the knowledge that she would protect and defend us with every ounce of her being, because we were "her students." What kind of teacher inspires such trust? The best kind!

The other day a local newspaper columnist, the survivor of an abusive childhood, wrote about a teacher who had made a difference in her life. The teacher, she said, "made me forget what was waiting for me at home."

What was it I wondered about that teacher that was different? What qualities did she have that allowed her to reach a child who was so nearly out of reach? I don't know. I do know, however, what it was that made my favorite teacher special. I'd like to tell you about her.

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Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four children, has been an education writer for nearly two decades. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.


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My favorite teacher was passionate about her subject matter. She didn't teach us a subject; she shared with us a wonderful secret. Her enthusiasm, her lectures, her assignments, even her test questions fairly screamed, "Isn't this fascinating? Isn't this brilliant? Isn't this exciting? Don't you want to know more?"

My favorite teacher was demanding. Hers was the original zero tolerance classroom. "You didn't do your homework? Complete the assignment? Follow directions? Listen to the question? Study for the exam? Intolerable! You get a zero!"

My favorite teacher was flexible. Her zero tolerance policy was tempered with common sense. "My dog ate my homework" didn't cut it. "My dog was sick" did. "I got so interested in Chapter 6 that I didn't have time to read Chapter 7" could also be winner -- provided you could justify the chapter's fascination.

My favorite teacher was real. We were aware that she too had a life -- a full, busy, complicated, interesting life. But she came to class prepared -- and so could we. She carried her love of the subject matter into the real world and came back with knowledge and experiences to share -- and so could we. She had bad days -- and so could we. Once in a while.

My favorite teacher criticized us but never demeaned us. She wasn't above a public dressing down if one of us failed to turn in an assignment or pay attention in class or do our best. But she never attacked us personally, she always knew what our best was, and she never asked for more than that -- or accepted less.

My favorite teacher was fair. She was human. She must have had favorites. But if she did, we never knew who they were. She clearly loved us all.

My favorite teacher was "scary and mean" -- but only in the eyes of students who had never been in her classroom. Those of us who were her students encouraged the rumors and bolstered our reputations for bravery, secure in the knowledge that she would protect and defend us with every ounce of her being, because we were "her students."

My favorite teacher demanded respect, treated us respectfully, and expected us to respect one another. We were a family. We took care of one another. No excuses!

My favorite teacher was involved -- and she bullied us into getting involved too. "I'm directing the spring play. I expect to see every one of you at tryouts." "I'm the advisor for the school paper and I need a good sports writer." "You have terrific literary insights. Why don't I see you at the Great Books Club meetings?" This is your life. Live it!

My favorite teacher was the teacher. She didn't tell jokes or hang out in the halls or try to be our friend. She didn't talk down to us; we were expected to talk "up" to her, to meet her expectations, to seek her level.

My favorite teacher was enthusiastic and involved, demanding and fair, interesting and interested. She gave every indication that she saw each of us as unique and fascinating individuals who were destined to make her proud -- if only she could knock some sense into us. How could we disappoint her?