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Virginia Journal of Education


Making Your Mark

Your students will remember the things you do and say for the rest of their lives, says a Chesapeake educator.


by Johnny J. Moye

Many of us in education have been asked questions like, “Why do you teach?” or “How can you teach teenagers?” Good questions. Of course, different teachers answer them in different ways, but for most of us it seems to come down to having the chance to make a positive difference in the lives of young people. Most teachers realize that students, like our own children, will probably not fully understand the effect we have on their lives until after they’ve left school and are out in the world on their own.
 
Over 30 years have passed since I graduated from a small-town Indiana high school, but I can still remember every one of my elementary school teachers and most of my junior high and senior high school teachers.  I wasn’t an “A” student, and many times I was that “little Johnny” that we have always heard about and sometimes referred to. At times my teachers were less than impressed with my work and used their skills to try to “reach” me. Many influenced me in ways that they’ll never know. I appreciate my teachers much more now that I’m an adult, and I appreciate them not only for the academics that they tried so earnestly to teach me, but for the lifelong impressions they made on me. Many of my teachers have probably passed on to that big school house in the sky but, as the saying goes, teachers will continue to live as long as their students are alive.

When I was teaching, I would devote the first day of a course to processing the necessary paperwork and to taking some time for my students and me to get to know each other. After all the introductions were over, I would explain my teaching philosophy and tell my students why I felt good about teaching. Among other reasons, I would explain that I taught because many of you will remember me for the rest of your lives. This might have been the first thing I said that really caught my students’ attention. I continued by telling them that I would do and say things that would have an influence on how they act and think in the future. I told them that having a positive impact on students is the real benefit of being a teacher. I told them this because I knew it to be true. I remember specific things about my teachers that occurred over 40 years ago. I would close that portion of our discussion by saying, “Many of you will remember that I said that you will remember what I say—think about it.”

I know it from my own experience: I remember my first, second and third grade teachers very well. They each had a large impact on my life, but it was Mrs. Wilson, my fourth grade teacher, who probably had the biggest effect on me during my elementary years. She planted a seed one day that continues to grow in me to this day. Once, after I rushed through one of her mathematics tests, she decided to keep me in the room during recess. I’m not sure exactly what grade I had gotten on the test, but Mrs. Wilson knew I could do better. She told me that I knew how to solve the problems but I must take my time and do things right the first time. So, without any extra study time, I retook the test, taking my time, and I got every problem right, a grade of 100. Back then, I had way too much energy and I was not a very patient person. Nowadays there are fancy medical terms and medicines for that condition. Even though it was after I graduated from high school before I worked very hard to apply Mrs. Wilson’s words, they are something that have had a major impact on my life. Mrs. Wilson, thank you for spending your personal time to help me learn a life lesson: Take your time and do it right the first time.

Mr. Benny Hasfurter was my seventh and eighth grade physical education teacher. Our gym classes were held in the old “Brown Gym,” located in downtown Madison, Indiana. While us boys would gather for class, Mr. Hasfurter would take—and constantly make—“granny” shots from half court. A granny shot is a shot taken with the basketball positioned between the hips and knees. By the standards of the early 1970s, when dunking and jump shots were the norm, granny shots were incredibly old fashioned. One day a boy asked Mr. Hasfurter how he was able to make those incredible shots. His words impressed me enough that I still remember them today. He said, “You can do anything if you practice enough.” Certainly those words are simple, but I have thought of Mr. Hasfurter and what he said many times as I struggled in life to learn algebra, trigonometry and even more difficult things, like being a good parent. Years later, while reading Mr. Hasfurter’s obituary, I realized that he was a part of the famous 1950 state basketball championship team from our small town. The Brown Gym was his home court during that championship season and subsequent years. To me, he won more than a basketball championship on that court. Mr. Hasfurter won my respect and admiration.

Mr. Dwyer was one of my eighth grade teachers, but it was his advice as my high school counselor that had a major impact on my life. During one of our meetings, Mr. Dwyer recommended that I take a typing course because I might use it if I enter the military, which he knew was a consideration for me. Now it was very uncommon for a boy from the hills of southern Indiana to be in a typing course in the early 1970s. It was considered one of those “non-traditional” things. However, I thought about all the girls that I would meet in that class so I agreed to take the elective course. Mr. Dwyer and I were both correct. I met many young ladies that helped me master the manual keyboard, and I also joined the U.S. Navy shortly after high school graduation. During my early years in the Navy, my typing skills enabled me to get into a very technical job, which I stayed with for more than 27 years. Thanks to Mr. Dwyer I learned a life-changing skill. Knowing how to type helped me while I was in the Navy and it continues to be a tremendous asset as I type my Ph.D. dissertation.

Mr. Black was my typing teacher. I don’t remember much about the typing course besides, of course, the girls, and trying to keep from jamming the keys. Out of the whole semester I can only recall one thing that he said. He told our class that it was important to learn to type, but it was even more important to type the correct information. As an illustration he told us about getting a letter one day that was addressed to Mr. White instead of Mr. Black. He didn’t read the letter, telling us that if whoever wrote it couldn’t even get his name right, there wouldn’t be anything in it that he wanted to read. I’ve remembered Mr. Black’s illustration many times as I’ve tried to produce accurate information. You know – getting it right the first time!
 
I cannot recall my 10th grade English Composition teacher’s name, but I do remember his answer to one of my questions. To this day, I follow his direction quite frequently. After being given a writing assignment I asked about the length requirement of the paper. What he had to say was pretty risqué for those days and may not be too politically correct even today, but it’s forever emblazoned on my mind. He said that a good paper should be like a lady’s skirt, long enough to cover the subject but short enough to be interesting. Man, those are words to live by!

In keeping with his philosophy, I must bring this article to a close. But before I do I must mention the teacher that had the largest impact on my life, Mr. Darryl A. Smith. He was my 11th and 12th grade marketing teacher. Mr. Smith was not one of those “touchy-feely” kinds of teachers—he was a tough old Army veteran, and played the part well. He was an excellent teacher and took the time to talk sense to me while I was sowing the wild oats of my teenage years. I always listened, but did not always do, the things Mr. Smith recommended. Eventually, after many years, I realized that he was correct in everything he had told me. Mr. Smith already knows how I feel about him and what he did for me but I will say it again: Thank you, Mr. Smith, for providing the guidance that I needed to get through my difficult and confusing teenage years!

There are many teachers that I did not mention because of the limitations of this article and in keeping with my English Composition teacher’s thinking (keep it short and interesting). Surely many of things that I do today and the way that I think are because of my teachers. As a teacher myself, I displayed concern and respect for each student. I asked for the same. I taught my students course requirements but I know that I played a larger part than just that in their lives. The everyday things that I said and did changed them and how they think about life today. I conveyed my feelings about life and explained that they, too, must think about their part in the lives of others.

Just this morning I received and answered an e-mail from one of my former students. He is in his third year in a technology teacher education program. I again encouraged him to work hard, told him that he would be a very good influence for his students, and let him know that he will have a positive impact on the teaching profession. Because of his e-mail, I realize that he appreciates me and my influence. Hopefully I am still a positive influence on him.

 With all the directions students may take today, they need guidance more than ever. Many do not want to listen to parents or sit in an office and listen to counselors. We as teachers have them for what they may think is an eternity. During that eternity, we have the opportunity to build a relationship with our students and have an influence that transcends the subjects that we teach. Remember: Even when they do not appear to be listening – they are. When they look like they are not paying attention – they are.

My teachers made a lasting impression on me. They influenced me in how I view and live life. And I will remember them for the rest of my life. I am a gratified teacher because I realize that many of my students will remember me for the rest of theirs.

Moye (moyejj@cps.k12.va.us), a member of the Chesapeake Education Association, taught technology education at Hickory High School for five years. He is currently serving as a Career and Technical Education Supervisor in the Chesapeake Public Schools system. In August 2008, Moye was named the Virginia Technology Education High School Teacher of the Year by the Virginia Technology Education Association. He’s currently pursuing his Ph.D. at Old Dominion University.

 


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