Tell Me About your Favorite Elementary School Teacher
September 18, 2007 8:03 PM   Subscribe

What elementary school teacher did you love and why? I'm writing an essay about elementary education; specifically about how teachers relate to and interact with their students.

We, my teacher wife and I, think we are on to something. Your stories and anecdotes would be very helpful in determining how close we are to the mark.
posted by snsranch to Education (28 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Alan Lengel (not the Washington Post reporter with a very similar name), who was my sixth grade teacher back in 1983-84, was one of the best teachers I ever had, and also my favorite. I think the main reason was that he treated his students with respect. This isn't to say that he didn't have discipline in his classroom, but rather that he treated us like young human beings rather than like kids, if that makes sense. He also had a (in my experience) rare talent for engaging the class and making us really interested in whatever the subject was at hand.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:30 PM on September 18, 2007

My 5th grade teacher was the first teacher to nurture my creative side, and was always encouraging and helpful. I was a shy student and he helped me reailse that my opinions do matter, while at the same time made it clear that the fact that i did not conform to the rest of the class was not important.

He was a great teacher, and his classes were always fun and engaging.

Turns out he was a pot-smoker too! Not that I ever recall him being stoned at work or anything, but it did explain his less than usual teaching style and lack of seriousness.
posted by robotot at 8:47 PM on September 18, 2007

Mrs. Bagwell, my kindergarten teacher has to be the most beloved teacher. What made her so special was her creativeness and caring heart. She made learning fun. I also remember her reading voice and how animated she became when reading Alexander and the no good very bad day book to us! She was also very accepting of my "creativeness" and nurtured that. I can remember other elementary teachers scolding me for my ideas. Now that I am older I can especially appreciate that quality in her. I really believe that having her as a good teacher for the very first year of school is what helped to shape me for the next year of learning. In reference to your essay I can say my elementary experience may be a little different from other because I grew up in a small West Texas town where the school was kindergarten through 12th grade in all one building. I like to to think that the advantage to the students is maybe more one on one attention. At my school the teachers seemed really caring and compassionate because most people here in the small town are kin to each other, or at least everyone knows everyone. I am very grateful for the closeness in relationship to each teacher. I really hope this helps with your essay.
posted by Snoogylips at 8:48 PM on September 18, 2007

Mrs. Allen (5th grade) and Mrs. Loersch (6th grade) were my favorite elementary school teachers because they were the first adults who made me feel like a valuable person. They were caring and compassionate with all their students. I grew up in an economically and socially disadvantaged area, so those traits were very important in a teacher, because most of us kids weren't getting much emotional support at home... They treated us like our opinions and ideas mattered, and they never talked down to us (or taught down to us)... Mrs. Allen gets extra points for asserting herself toward my mother's boyfriend (who was abusive to me) when he came to a class meeting, and Mrs. Loersch gets extra points for encouraging my interest in creative writing.
posted by amyms at 8:57 PM on September 18, 2007

Mr. McLean, my 6th-grade teacher, is the one I'll always remember as my favourite teacher. Primarily, it was because he always spoke to me frankly - not like an equal, perhaps, but like a young adult rather than a child. He's the one who taught me that there's never a great reason to use the word "good" - there are so many synonyms for it, you never need to use it. He also taught me how to spell "extraordinaire", so I think of him whenever I use it.

I went back to my hometown when I was 19 and had a nice visit with him and his class. He remembered me telling him an excited story about a novel I was reading in grade 6 (Taran Wanderer, as it happens) and complimented me on retaining my skills at projecting my voice, another talent he taught me.
posted by chudmonkey at 9:10 PM on September 18, 2007

My 3rd grade teacher is who I immediately thought of. In class we sang Christmas carols. And we got to ones that were more religious, mentioning Jesus by name. And I just felt uncomfortable. My family never really went to church, and the whole idea just left me feeling weird. She could tell. And she talked to me after class and said "You don't have to sing those songs if you're feeling uncomfortable." This is a school where I was pretty lonely in classes the day most kids had their confirmation. She stopped by my house recently, she is now a Christian missionary in China. I now think of her anytime someone mentions believers who are intolerant.

We also made a "bird museum" during our unit on birds. We made exhibits, did tours of our "collection" of artificats (including some from the local actual museum of history), sold refreshments, and did presentations for the whole school to see. It was awesome.

She also made me learn how to ride a bicycle. We had a "bicycle rodeo" where there was a mini obstacle course. It was then I realized I was the only one who didn't know how to ride a bicycle. I learned just for that event, she didn't pressure but gave me the motivation I needed. Sadly, I haven't ridden since. But she was very proud when I did learn.

She also allowed us to bring in food for movie days on Fridays. And she let me bring my Walkman to recess. And she had us read the newspaper and take quizzes on current events. And she showed us a great variation on dodgeball.

I was also surprised when she saw me recently and asked about 7 or 8 people in my class. I barely remembered who was in my class, it was amazing she still thought about those kids and what happened to them. For me, 3rd grade was the end of day care with some reading thrown in. So thanks Miss Blake.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:41 PM on September 18, 2007

Mrs. Backus, 4th grade, because she taught a unit on techniques used by advertisers to appeal to children. It was pretty eye-opening. Up until then, and actually even for a few years after that, the official line was "grown-ups are good, do what they say"; she was the first to say "watch out, these people are lying to you". That unit should be mandatory nationwide.
posted by equalpants at 10:17 PM on September 18, 2007

Mrs. Leedy, third grade. She was very old, and retired right after I had her. She had really high standards for all of us. We couldn't say "yeah," it was "yes" only. We learned stuff that had been dropped from the curriculum years ago, because she believed it was important to know. She was very proper and old-fashioned, but it was clear that she loved what she did and I felt loved every day at school.

I once overheard her telling someone that I was a good writer. Later, I learned that in addition to the compliments she paid to us directly she made a point of complimenting students to other people, too. She never said anything bad about us, even though she did tell us sometimes that we needed to work harder.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:30 PM on September 18, 2007

Miss Davis was my favorite (5th grade Wagner Elementary). I was totally terrified to be put in her class because I had heard that she was a total hippie and none of her kids ever did any work. I thought that was a terrible way to spend my all-important 5th grade year. My mom was all ready to request a "real" teacher for me because I was so concerned that I wouldn't learn anything. Turns out she was a total hippie but it was the best year of my life up to that point! We went to recess three times a day where she took home movies of us, we went on field trips over to the wildlife preserve every season to see how things had changed, she had herbal teas available to all the student all day, we listened to Jean-Pierre Rampal play the flute in the Great Pyramids with headphones on under beduoin-style tents she built in the classroom, we learned how to do guided meditation, she brought us to Toys R Us to buy new board was endless fun and discovery in her classroom and I have NO idea how she got away with it. Oh yeah and we wrote and performed an entire musical for the Christmas presentation to our parents - I can still remember the songs we wrote. I guess it was the mid-70s and you could get away with that sort of freedom in the classroom. It'd never happen in a public school today.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:03 PM on September 18, 2007

In elementary education, I only had two standouts. A science teacher, and a hippie-ass art lady.

Thing is, the hippie art chick didn't use any kinds of peace, love, or happiness kinds of projects. She came in like a wild-haired avenging angle of arts and crafts. She bound people's heads in plaster. She demanded silence, unless we had perfect pitch and could sing a dirge. She pointed us at clay, like clay was our sworn enemy.

She showed me that craft was work, but that was a really good thing.

I'm 23 or so years out of her classroom, and still thinking of what she was trying to get me to understand.
posted by quin at 11:18 PM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ever since kindergarten I had heard horror stories about how evil and mean and terribly scary Mrs. Peltzer, a 6th grade teacher, was. After 5 more years of fear-mongering by older kids, I was horrified to find she was my teacher. It turned out that yeah, she was pretty damn crabby when kids disrespected her, but mostly she just had high expectations for behavior and academics. Reading was her favorite subject, and she had us write detailed journal entries in a composition book for every novel we read that school year. Every day in class we read our books silently for an hour or so, and she would come around and quietly discuss our journals and books with us. During these little discussions she was so warm and loving and passionate about reading, it was hard to reconcile her with the beast everyone had feared for so many years. I was always (still am) very shy, and I vividly remember looking forward to chatting with her about books; I had always loved to read, but she helped me to learn to love analyzing them and discussing their different aspects. I still have my journal - I read about 60 books for her that school year, and that isn't even including all the crap books that I was too embarrassed to admit to her I read on weekends.
posted by gatorae at 11:18 PM on September 18, 2007

The major standout of my elementary school career was an exceptionally bad first grade teacher, who took it upon herself to wage psychological warfare against me after I unintentionally embarrassed her in front of the class. After that, I went to some different schools. (email if you think the details are relevant.)

For sixth grade, I had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Anne Wood. She appreciated each student and treated us like humans, which made all the difference in the world. I got my first taste of hard work, which I disliked intensely despite the fact that it was the only thing that relieved the boredom. I guess I was hard to please.
posted by Myself at 1:00 AM on September 19, 2007

I had elementary teachers I liked, but it had nothing I can remember, to do with their teaching. It wasn't until 8th grade I had a teacher that taught me something special, and that was highly unexpected (my science teacher was a quiet hero, and taught me heroism. Seriously. An experiment went haywire, and he placed his body between it and the class, because it was likely about to explode).

The elementary teachers I especially liked were because of who they knew. They knew my family. They were old, and had taught 2 generations of my family. Although I will say, I especially liked Miss Copeland. She was very relaxed, frumpy/plain, and calm. And she read to us every day for a bit after lunch. For whatever reason, I was less inclined to trust new teachers, as a child.
posted by Goofyy at 1:09 AM on September 19, 2007

Our elementary school teachers were older women (some would be 100 or more now if they were still living) except Mrs Rawlings, a temporary third-grade teacher from Missouri who was young, who sat on her desk and played guitar to us (this was the 1960s), and who cried when she read us Charlotte's Web. There was emotional contact -- another human being was with us in the room.
posted by pracowity at 1:33 AM on September 19, 2007

I really liked my 1st grade teacher. She remembered my name when I ran into her 10 years later. I will never forget that.
posted by TheAnswer at 2:49 AM on September 19, 2007

Mrs. Jefferson, my sixth grade teacher, was a peach deluxe. We had some sort of pre-packaged reading list sort of thing: all the books we were supposed to read with all the exercise/quiz books that went with them all organized into little boxes. It must have been the first year they were trying that system, because it was all new-wrapped and fresh and nice... so, of course, as an avid reader anyway, I read all the books for the year in less than a month on my own (and did the exercises, since she told me she didn't mind if I read ahead, as long as I did the accompanying work).

Why I love her: Instead of having a bright but utterly bored student sitting in class for those reading sessions for the rest of the year, she organized with the lower grade teachers for me to come to their classes and read to the younger pupils, which turned out to be even a bit more involved, since I liked to sort of act out the stories as we were reading them, and got the little kids acting them out with me... and it was a huge success. The demand even exceeded the supply (me) and a couple of other kids in my class got involved. And at the end of the year, I was awarded some sort of glittery school distinction, and an award from the DAR (why the DAR? I have no idea, but there you go).

That took a lot of inventive, observational, and diplomatic skill on her part - to what end? Just to come up with a creative idea to deal with a (limitedly) overactive scholar. She had noticed, apparently, that I liked the younger kids and often played big-sister to them on the playground; she must have felt that my interaction with them in a classroom would be a fresh, fun thing, good for me and them; she must have had to do quite some selling on the idea (because - well, that's how things are); and she must have been quite liked and respected by the other teachers and school administration to set something like this in motion (I assume that it wouldn't be at all possible today, but this was over 35 years ago).

She was an older lady (just to add another data point re: age and beloved teachers), but tall and elegant and calm (I thought she was rather beautiful). Anyway, she rocked and I love her still.
posted by taz at 4:29 AM on September 19, 2007

My first grade teacher Mrs. B was the first teacher I remembered as I read this. I don't remember much about her teaching style, but I do remember being very motivated to do well.

From there I had many teachers over the years that made a "Connection" with me. No easy task, since for a 4 yr period I was only around for six months before heading off to another school.

I feel guilty now that I don't remember their names, but my 5th grade teacher introduced me to Science Fiction. (Dragon Riders of Pern series to be exact.) She was a little surprised that I turned in a "book" report on a comic book. I did get a C on the report though. This same teacher also encouraged me to write and often spent the time after class to offer help and suggestions on making the story better.

There was also a teacher in 3rd grade, he was a giant of a man. (at least to us 3rd graders.) Once a month, always a friday; we would all be herded to the gym. A guest speaker would be there, but what I and the other kids looked forward to was when the lights dimmed and this teacher began weaving a story of suspense and mischief. Years later, as a angst spewing teenager this same teacher remembered me in a crowded line at a high school basketball game. I was to self absorbed to truly appreciate that.
posted by timt at 4:38 AM on September 19, 2007

I went to elementary school in the 70s and it was something of an experimental time in education. I was in a "gifted" class and from second grade through fifth grade we had the same teacher in the same classroom with the same fellow students. They also included kids who had learning disabilities so students were also helping students. The sense of community created was unlike anything I've ever had in any subsequent educational experience. I loved both learning and teaching. I think it had a profound effect on who I am today.

My teacher was Mrs. Macdonald and, I kid you not, she had a farm. Well, technically her father did. At least once a semester we'd all climb onto a bus and visit the farm. This too was a pretty pivotal experience for me. While I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, we were integrated into a school in a pretty major city, bused about 15 miles into Elgin and into an ancient, all minority high school. We lived in the suburbs, went to school in a very poor urban neighborhood, and frequently visited a farm. The variety of that experience was a gift.

None of this would have worked if it weren't for Mrs. Macdonald. She paired us up and built that community. She taught us not only the joys of reading and the mysteries of math, she taught us we had a responsibility to each other and the world around us. She was doing some pretty radical things and I think, at least in my case, it worked. If she made a mistake it was that because we were "gifted" we didn't need the sort of rote exercises and drills the typical students were doing. Give them Shakespeare and let them build geodesic domes, but spelling tests and multiplication drills weren't part of the curriculum. To this day I struggle with my spelling.

Since the students in the class were from all over what was then the largest district in Illinois, we seldom saw each other after school. When they decided to mainstream us in sixth grade we lost touch with each other. We didn't really stay in contact until a terrible day when we were in high school and I got a call from a former classmate. He told me about a story in the local paper about a drunk driver who had killed Mrs. Macdonald and her daughter. It broke my heart. She was an amazing woman with vision and a sense of children that any kid could benefit from. I couldn't go to the funeral because I couldn't deal with the loss. She was extraordinary and I owe a heck of a lot to her. I think she made me a curious, caring, and giving individual, and next to my mom, she shaped me more than any other single individual.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:51 AM on September 19, 2007

Just an alternate data point - I'm 32 and I don't remember anything much about my elementary school teachers beyond their names and general dispositions. I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite, and it wasn't as if I was some slouch - I was a straight A student. They were decent people, in a good school district, but I don't think of any of them as having a profound impact on me.

However, I could go on and on about my 8th grade English teacher (and my 9th grade French teacher), so if this is useful to you, drop me a line (e-mail is in profile).
posted by desjardins at 5:53 AM on September 19, 2007

I have many teachers that I remember fondly, all for different reasons. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Toole, was somewhat older (probably middle aged but to a five-year old seemed ancient) and somewhat strict. She wasn't mean but did keep order well and took us through many phonics drills while teaching us to read. Her regimented teaching style helped instill what little self discipline I have and gave me a good foundation for reading, which for me has been the basis for much of what I have learned since.

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Miller, was very different. Young and pretty, she brought a more holistic approach to her classroom. We had dance contests to popular music, a class aquarium, and even got to go to her house to see her fish tank. She shared enough of her personal life with us that I realized teachers were people too.

My fourth and fifth grade English teacher, Mrs. Tudor, was another favorite. She had a nurturing approach that served me well at a time when school was becoming more difficult as the pace of instruction picked up. Her class was the one we ordered Scholastic books in. By that age I was already a voracious reader and the day the books came in was a high point of the month. I still live in the same town where I went to school and happened to take care of her grandchild recently; her daughter said she still remembered me fondly, which really brightened the day of this cranky 43 year old. I think that sums it up for me, that the teachers that really made an impression on me took enough genuine interest in me that they would still know who I was more than three decades later.
posted by TedW at 5:59 AM on September 19, 2007

Fifth-grade English. Ed Elderkin. He was a character. Sometimes he would lose his temper—possibly because he was having a bad day, possibly because we were being a bunch of little terrors. I recall him once winging a kid with an eraser. But he could also be extremely funny, and was a self-taught piano genius (there was a piano in the classroom, which he'd play on rare occasion).

But the thing that left the biggest impression on me is that he ran a tight ship and taught us a lot. His class was all grammar, and taught me all the grammar I needed until, oh, tenth grade.
posted by adamrice at 7:02 AM on September 19, 2007

My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. McAneny, made "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanonconitosis" one of our spelling words. That was so cool.

Also, every Friday we would play a jeopardy-like game that she put together that forced us to be creative and began my career as a lexophile.

Her class helped me love learning and reading.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:35 AM on September 19, 2007

My third and fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Burton. I still recall her rule "It's not 'my mama, she went to the store,' but either 'my mama went to the store' or 'she went to the store.' it's not my mama she!" which immediately came to mind when i read your post: We, my teacher wife and I, think we are on to something. :) She put the words "a lot" on every spelling test until the entire class spelled it correctly (instead of as "alot").

Mrs. Burton dumped my desk out onto the floor when it was overflowing with old homework papers, didn't get mad when she caught me reading during the math lesson, and when she got really frustrated, would put Aretha Franklin on the record player and let us all sing along to "RESPECT."

When I was older, in middle school, she asked if I would help tutor one of her current students. The girl needed help with her math homework- it seems she had been reading during the lessons.
posted by kidsleepy at 8:38 AM on September 19, 2007

kamikazegopher: you spelled it wrong.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 9:33 AM on September 19, 2007

Rick Hall, my fifth-grade teacher.
What made him special? Well, he had a sense of humor, first and foremost. That sense of humor manifested itself in bizarre rituals like class screaming contests (often aided by twisting our fingers), "mathketball" (where we'd attempt to wager homework against him based on athletic prowess), and forcing kids who acted up to don a strawberry costume and sing "I'm a little teapot" in front of the class.

Looking back on it, it does seem all vaguely horrific and abusive, except that he really did like us and we really did learn a lot (well, relative to elementary school). More than anything, as a kid who was picked on all the time (especially the year prior), giving me the power to regard school and life as blackly comic, absurd and cruel, really meant a lot to me.
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 AM on September 19, 2007

The first teacher I really remember liking was Ms. Ryder, my 7th grade language arts/homeroom teacher. Most of our class time was completely unstructured; she gave us the objectives she expected us to accomplish by the end of the class and then let us determine how and in what order we were going to do everything. This was mind-blowing at the time and completely different from anything I had ever experienced, but looking back later I realized that was when I learned how to be an independent learner. It was the most valuable thing a teacher has ever done for me.
posted by Burritos Inc. at 1:11 PM on September 19, 2007

Mrs. McCafferty, my kindergarten teacher in 1961. So long ago that I don't remember what it was about her that I loved, but I still love her these many years later. The feeling was apparently mutual, as she would seek me out for special projects and conversations for the entire 4 years I was at that school.

Then there was Mrs. Balliette, 8th grade math, who taught me that my mind was valuable and interesting, by making me explain myself and to not be afraid to be wrong. She was so scary because she just made you stand up for yourself, but she absolutely changed my life. Funny thing was, she grew up in the community (1000 miles away) that my family moved to after 8th grade, so I got to meet her parents, who were also wonderful.
posted by nax at 2:15 PM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: This is the wife of snsranch. I may have broken some MetaFilter rule, but your comments have inspired me to do a better job tomorrow.
posted by snsranch at 10:05 PM on September 19, 2007

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