TDZ Retrospective: Teachers That Made a Difference

Originally posted February 10, 2011.

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post. Today I want to write about some of the exceptional teachers I have encountered either as a student or educator.

My third grade teacher, Mrs. J was one of those teachers who made learning fun.  She had the ability to keep students on a wide range of levels actively engaged in learning. She used many life lessons and practical things to teach not just books. She instilled a thirst for learning and encouraged independent learning. After the school year started a new building opened and our class moved to a new room. One of the activities was to paint our classroom. Our class spent time researching the perfect paint for the classroom. We selected a color that would  keep the room bright. We even had to figure out how many gallons of paint would be needed. For her my learning disabilities were just minor hurdles. Instead of focusing on my bad handwriting she had me work on activities to improve my fine motor skills. Our class had desks with the chairs attached that spun around. At times it was impossible for an extremely ADHD child like myself to sit still. Mrs. J would allow me to move to a table at the back of the room or even sit on a special carpet square on the floor.

In upper elementary school music class was a haven from a school day that was at times unbearable. Mrs. T made music class a fun place. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t write or had a hard time sitting still. Mrs. T encouraged her students to participate. We had to participate in class talent shows periodically. In one, my “act” failed miserably. Of course, my classmates responded by laughing and making fun of me. Mrs. T quickly stopped it and proceed to praise my effort to try something different. This was not the only time she encouraged me to try something different or encouraged my creativity. After turning in a poorly written report for class she had me stay after school to fix it. I expected to be yelled at or punished. By this time in my school career I really didn’t try because I had learned  that no matter how hard I worked my teachers would rarely give me more than a passing grade.  Instead Mrs. T took the time to help me put together a good report. She  believed I was capable of more and was smart.

In high school I had three teachers that recognized my potential and would not allow me to slide through class. My high school keyboarding teacher had a reputation for being very tough. She was notorious for sending unsatisfactory progress reports home. I had a rough start in her class. Mrs. H was constantly on my case about not working.  I did well on the knowledge  part of tests but poorly on the performance part.  I tried to explain that I had a problem with coordination. Mrs. H decided to call my mom. It was after this Mrs. H became determined to help me pass her class. She was not required to stay after school helping me complete class assignments.  Mrs. W was another teacher that teamed up with my mom to help me not only pass her class but graduate.  I learned a lot from Mrs. W. She often modified written assignments allowing me to complete them orally.  Mrs. G, my senior English teacher and speech coach, tried to convince me that I could write. By the time I had reached my senior year in high school I avoided anything that involved writing at all costs. Getting words on paper was not a pleasant experience.  At the time I couldn’t understand why my usual B’s or C’s on writing assignments were not acceptable. It seemed futile to keep revising and rewriting papers because I was not capable of writing.  Oh, I just want to say Mrs. G you were correct I can write.

One of the best teachers I have ever had was in graduate school. Dr. B is able to relate her subject matter that is interesting. Sometimes I would become engrossed in the lectures that I forgot to take notes. While she demanded excellence from her students, she also truly cared.

I believe that the Big Guy is one of the best natural teachers I have ever met. The Big Guy never intended to become a teacher. While in graduate school (the first time) he took a job teaching part-time at the school where I was teaching and loved it. The Big Guy has a way of making learning fun and interesting.  He is not afraid to try new and creative things in his class. He is fun to watch because it obvious that he actually enjoys imparting knowledge to his students.

Wright’s Law: Physics and the Meaning of Life

Jeffery Wright is an example of a teacher who gets it. He uses unconventional methods to engage his students. The video is about 12 minutes long. It is worth the time to watch.

Read the New York Times article about Mr. Wright.

What is Your Learning Style.


That is a very good question, I’m glad you asked. Maybe you didn’t ask but Plinky did. Part of my specialization as an educator has included learning styles. The average teacher is either an auditory or visual learner who prefers highly structured formal educational settings. My learning preferences are the opposite. Guess I’m certainly not the typical educator. My learning style is tactile/kinesthetic and I prefer a very informal non-structured environment. I learn best by reading instructions paired, visual demonstrations and hands on practice.

Currently, I’m learning to play the guitar. I’m using a combination of on-line video lessons and guitar method books. I started with just the method books. The 1st book was rather easy because I already read music and have learned to play other instruments. However the intermediate level book was more difficult and I had reached a road block after just a couple of lessons. With the on-line series I’m able to see/hear how to play something.

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Top 10: Student Excuses

top10B#10: “It is too hard.”  I’ve been surprised by the growing number of very bright and otherwise successful students that are afraid of failure. When a task is too hard they want to quit or get out of the class. Often the reason stated is that a low grade will have a negative impact on their GPA. My philosophy has always been any student who wanted to pass and was willing to work for it would. This has meant that I have helped students on my own time, given extra projects or tutoring. All the student had to do was either request help or respond to my offer to help them through the class.  Part of life is learning to handle failure and overcome obstacles. Students should be commended for taking difficult tasks and not allowed to avoid them.

#9: “It isn’t fair to give us a quiz over the reading assignment.”  I found that many students believed reading assignments were optional therefore refused to do them.

#8: “It is the teacher’s fault I’m failing. My being late to class, not listening and refusing to work has nothing to do with it.” In a parent-teacher conference the mother actually wanted me to sign a waiver saying I was unable to teach her daughter. The waiver basically stated I didn’t know how to teach. The purpose of the waiver was to allow her daughter to take the class on-line for free. Yep, that’s right instead of backing the teacher  or addressing her daughter’s behavior the mom blamed me.

#7: “What do you mean it is wrong I followed the picture in the book?” I thought a computer applications course that used Microsoft Office. The text included very detailed instructions on how to complete the assignments as well as illustrations. I always had students who just looked at the pictures instead of reading the instructions. They just didn’t want to read.

#6: “My arms are too long” This one  actually came from a friend who teaches on the secondary level.  He had a student tell him that he couldn’t work because his arms were to long for the desk. The desk was a standard chair/desk combo found in many high schools and colleges. No, the student isn’t a budding basketball star. He is around 6 feet or maybe a little less.

#5: “It was the teachers fault I got written up for cheating and failed the test.” I was tired of my students cheating on tests so I had the computer generate a different form for each student. During the test a couple of students asked why they had a different test from their neighbors. After the test one of the students asked if they each had a different test. It was the same student who noticed during the test there were different form,s asked if this was because I thought they were cheating. This caused several of the students to become upset that I was framing them for cheating. Well, one budding rocket scientist went home and told his mother I accused him of cheating and framed him for it.  In the parent conference, he told his mom this was unfair because he wrote down the same answers as X so he should have gotten the same grade.

#4: “Student: I didn’t know the project counted 1/3 of my grade or when it was due.”

Me: It was listed on the class syllabus, the monthly assignment sheet, on the project form you turned in at the beginning of the grading period and on the assignment board in class.
Parent: Well my child can’t remember assignments and I didn’t know about the assignment either.
Me:  I have your signature on the syllabus, monthly assignment sheet and project form.
Parent: You should communicate deadlines and expectations better.

 #3: “Unlike you I have a life and can’t be expected to do homework or show up to school on time.”  The student was trying to convince me to give a passing grade in a computer art class. The student begin my telling me how embarrassing it would be to fail an art class. After listening to the student’s begging and sob story I offered a solution. The student could come in after school for 2 weeks plus complete a research paper at home.  It was funny how fast the student’s attitude changed from desperation to indignant that I would expect the student to work for the grade.

#2: “I have ADHD and forgot to take my medicine.” My response: Neither did I go sit down and work. ADHD is real and it is not an acceptable excuse for poor behavior. Medicine is one tool for controlling ADHD. The secret for ADHD is to find the proper balance and tools to control it. Under control ADHD can be a secret weapon to go a little farther and get more things done.

#1:  “I can’t learn because I’m too dumb. I have SLD.”  SLD means specific learning disability.  Working in adult education it is really painful to see adults who have bought in to the lie that somehow a learning disability makes them unable to succeed. Many feel that because learning is hard they are just plain dumb. Like me others have had teachers tell them they were stupid. To be learning disabled one must have an average or higher IQ. Approximately 1/3 of individuals with a learning disability are in the gifted range. A learning disability means you have to learn differently.

If I Could Change How Schools Work

When I found this topic, I knew it was something I had to write about. As an educator I have a strong opinions about the way schools run and should be run. Of course, if you have read my blog you know I have opinions on many subjects. Guess I wouldn’t blog if I weren’t so opinionated. Well back to the topic. I would make three major changes: de-emphasize standardize testing, allow educators to run schools, and hold parents accountable for student performance, behavior and attendance.

I believe that there is too much emphasis on standardize testing. Teaching to minimal skills tests lowers the standards. Standardize testing can be a useful tool. I wouldn’t eliminate standardize testing but rather change the way they are used. Below third grade it is better to focus on mastering basic reading and math skills. A criterion base skills portfolio or assessment would replace current standardized testing.  Traditional standardized test like California Achievement Tests or Standford Achievement Test would be used for grades four through six. The test would be used as a part of annual student assessment but not the total package. When used properly achievement tests can provide a useful data about a students potential or as an indicator of possible problems. For students in middle school and high school I think it would be better to use end of course testing similar to AP tests.

One of the most frustrating things for me as an educator is that politicians have more say in how schools are run than professional educators. That would be like having an auto mechanic set the standards for medical care rather than doctors. Allow teachers to teach with the support of administrators, parents and politicians.

Yes, teachers need to be held accountable but parent should be held accountable as well. Students whose parents are involved and supportive of both the child and teacher do better. Unfortunately, many students do not come to school prepared to learn. They may lack the essentials such as adequate food, shelter and a stable home life. It is difficult for a child to concentrate when they are hungry or worried about where they sleep that night. For some students school is the first time they have encountered an environment with rules and structure. They are used to being able to do as they please and often have difficulty following rules.  Then there are parents who are overprotective or believe their child can do no wrong. Anyone who causes problems for their child must be the problem.

Well, that is my take on school reforms. It is not everything that needs or should be done but it is a start.

4 Years Going on 5

Well it has been 4 years for this version of The Dee Zone.  In honor of that I thought I would share some of the highlights from the past 4 years.

Year 1 in Review July 2007-June 2008


07 July 2007: Dyslexia Explained

In recent months there has been much discussion about Dyslexia and its existence. Some experts claim that it does not exist. Yet dyslexia does exist. It is the most common cause of reading problems.One common misunderstanding is that dyslexia is simply seeing or reading things backwards. Dyslexia is much more than reversing letters it is a processing problem that can affect both written and spoken language. The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as: “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”  Read more…

frusboy.jpg24 August 2007: What Every Parent of A Child With Learning Disabilities Needs to Know

First learn about your child’s learning disability. Find out the symptoms or traits and problems this disability may cause. Be sure to keep a record of every meeting, test results and diagnosis your child has. More…

grad.jpg09 Nov 2007: A Well Rounded Education?

Our society has become obsessed with getting good test scores. Standardized test scores have become the most important benchmark for accessing the quality of schools, teachers and students. Unfortunately, this has created a school culture that focuses only on tests scores. Teaching to the tests and basic standards has led to the elimination of subjects that are deemed unnecessary. Education should be about preparing students for life not just passing a test. Read more …

Itchy tags 19 Dec 2007: Itchy Tag

I’m trying to work  but unfortunately I’m distracted by an itchy tag. There is nothing worse than creating the optimal work environment only to be distracted by something as trivial as an itchy tag. I just hate the little tags in the back of shirt collars. So, if one tag isn’t bad enough some shirts have a tag on the side as well. More…

ryan.gif11 Feb 2008: Why Roger Clemens Will Never Be as Great A Pitcher as Nolan Ryan!!!

A couple of years ago I read a discussion in the Houston Chronicle about Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan and who was the better pitcher.  Recent developments have convinced me that Nolan Ryan is and always will be a better pitcher. Here’s why. Read More …

27 March 2008: Sky Watch Friday: Here Come the Bats

This is from my first Sky Watch Friday. It is still one of my favorite photos.

The bats look more like transparent little kites. They are fruit bats at the U.F. bat house.

More on the bats.


David Crowder15 Apr 2008: More Thoughts on Christian Music

Last week I wrote a post about Christian Music. There were some comments about Christian musicians imitating secular musicians. One complaint I have heard many times is that some Christian musicians do not look very Christian. I believe that we should judge music by the lyrics. What message is it sending. More…

01 May 2008: Sky Watch Friday — Animal Kingdom

That tree is actually a person.

This is one of my favorite shots. Look closely the tree is really a person.
See more, including the sky shot.

Annoying people18 Jun 2008: Don’t Take This Personally

Recently, I had a conversation with someone that began with “don’t take this personally” and was followed by a very judgmental blanket statement. Of course, I was offended my character was being attacked. When I became upset the person said now I told you it was not personal. This person did not even understand why I would be upset. Apparently prefacing a personal attack with “don’t take personally” somehow absolves he/she from any responsibility. It is a free ticket for rudeness. The other contention I had with this individual was the use of blanket statements. More ranting…