The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Amazing

I am a product of the San Francisco school system and the University of California at Berkeley. I was a good student – pleased my teachers, got good grades, and kept my mother happy. And I liked school okay. Sometimes I liked it more than others. On a couple of occasions it was truly awful. And as rarely it was occasionally, spectacularly, amazing.

Teaching is an art. There are those who approach it as science, and there is definitely skill involved. But to truly engage and inspire takes something intangible that I wish we could bottle.

In elementary school we requested Mrs. Liguori for me for 6th grade. She was known to be a challenging teacher, in all the right ways. And she was. I wrote a 50 page report on Italy, learned to make lovely watercolors, tackled and mastered math, and more. She was tough and kind and funny. I had a great 6th grade year. And she was refreshing after my fifth grade teacher failed me for a spelling test for cheating (I wasn’t cheating), helped me be completely confused about stalagmites and stalactites and made me rewrite a report on the subject three times because I’d supposedly gotten the definition wrong when I hadn’t, and more. My 8th grade math teacher, Mr. Jackson, made me cry by being harsh and in his farewell speech at the end of the year he said he thought he’d been a good teacher “though I did make Jean cry once”.

I have more examples of good and bad and we all have them. I’d like to believe that many of the negatives have been ironed out of a system that has evolved. It’s been a few years since I was in K-12.

There is one teacher who forever impacted me in a way I am aware of and appreciate often. Science was never my thing. My eyes glazed over in biology and because I never did well there I never got on to the other sciences. I shied away from them and didn’t regret it.

However, Berkeley required I take two hard science classes for my liberal arts undergraduate degree and for one of them I lucked into an amazing class with an amazing professor. Physical anthropology with Dr. Tim White was a spectacularly detailed class which imparted a tremendous amount of knowledge in a way that was informative, entertaining and inspiring. To this day my eyes light up about the field.

Because the love of the subject was firmly instilled, I picked up the book “Fossil Men” at BAM one day. Lo and Behold it was in good part about the amazing Dr. White. I learned for the first time that not only was he an amazing educator, he was renowned in his field. I am currently enjoying my first read through this book.

I was amazingly lucky to be able to take that class so long ago. I wish I had been exposed to him sooner because I would certainly be a physical anthropologist now if so.

I’m glad for things like Khan Academy. They make learning and good teachers so much more accessible. Hopefully Dr. White has videos to inspire more students. I think I’ll go find out. 🙂