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The Reflective Teacher: My Most Memorable Teacher by Stephanie Blackburn

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Stephanie Blackburn, a 2002 Milken Award winner, teaches fourth grade in Westerly, Rhode Island.

Stephanie Blackburn

It is very difficult to think back over my time in school and pick only one teacher to remember. I had so many wonderful teachers! Facilitators, tour guides of extraordinary experiences, and friends all came to my mind when I thought of my former teachers.

One teacher who stands out, however, is Mr. Heinhold, from Nashua High School. Mr. Heinhold was an English teacher -- and I hated English. It took me forever to read a page in the Sunday comic section, let alone those horrendous novels we had to read. I also was neither a good, nor confident, writer.

At the age of 15, I moved from a small rural town in Rhode Island to Nashua, a city in southern New Hampshire. I was convinced that my father had taken this new job to separate me from my life-long friends and deprive me of a fun teenage experience. Needless to say, I had a very big chip on my shoulder.

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I was snotty and difficult to get along with, but Mr. Heinhold saw through the front I had built. He taught me how to think critically. He worked with me to help improve my writing skills and my confidence. He modeled how to effectively read a book and to appreciate various literary works, from Shakespeare to Ray Bradbury. I ended up loving every book we read -- even if I initially had hated it. Mr. Heinhold managed to make every piece of writing come alive, whether it was our own writing or the writing of a famous author.

But that's not all! I will always remember the kindness and respect Mr. Heinhold bestowed on us. He never criticized or demeaned our ideas. He often challenged them, however, and asked tough questions to encourage us to do the same. He played devil's advocate to force us to communicate our ideas more effectively. Through our class discussions, Mr. Heinhold helped us see the power of debate, but not once did he make us feel that we were wrong.

Mr. Heinhold's class was a safe haven, where we could express ideas, ask questions, and think outside the box. All his students were required to be respectful of one another, and to abstain from personally attacking others. If anyone began to attack another, he immediately brought it to a halt. Everyone in the class knew that!

Mr. Heinhold did more than help me grow academically; he made me realize that I was an individual with ideas, and he showed me that the world was not a terrible place.

Every day, Mr. Heinhold greeted me with a smile. When I was down, he would ask what was wrong. He truly cared and treated me like an individual, not just like one of 125 faces staring at him daily. Because of his respect for my intellect and for me as a person, I learned how to tap into my strengths and improve upon them. He challenged me to go to the edge and, when I was ready, he pushed me off to fly.

I've thought of Mr. Heinhold often, especially these past few months since being named a Milken Award winner. Daily, I strive to instill some of the virtues he modeled to us; respect, trust, high standards, and caring. I am constantly asking my students hard questions, and promoting discussions that require them to validate one another's opinions. I facilitate the discussions in which my students participate, so they feel a sense of security and are confident to think outside the box.

I learned from Mr. Heinhold and others that being an effective educator means more than delivering instruction. I only hope my students will remember my kindness, respect, and high standards, just as I remember his. Thank you Mr. Heinhold! I will never forget you.

Previous Teacher Diaries

Be sure to see Education World's previous teacher diary features, The First 180 Days: First-Year Teacher Diaries and A First-Year Teacher and Her Mentor.

Article by Stephanie Blackburn
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