Sunday, April 29, 2007


Watching Freedom Writers forced me into a greater form of appreciation than I have previously carried for the superb teachers I have had in my life. Realizing just what the teacher in the film had put on the line to ensure her students' success made me ever more appreciative of a handful of teachers that undoubtedly sacrificed at the very least their time to push me along.

Maybe I've mentioned this before, but I had a rough go from about the middle of seventh grade until the beginning of my junior year of high school. I think they call it the teenage years. I was probably in attendance a grand total of one hundred days throughout junior high, but somehow passed. The "somehow" can be chalked up to my ability to teach myself just about anything, a trick I used to continue to teach myself how to play the piano and a trick that didn't come equipped with any sort of mathematical ability, and, like I said, a handful of wonderful teachers.

I wouldn't necessarily say I was a delinquent through that span of time, but I certainly wasn't a star student or poster child for anything. Difficult I think is the best word to describe me then. This was due to numerous other factors outside of school and I think by and large due to my complete boredom in school. However, there were a few astute individuals who recognized the problems and gave me the direction I needed.

Early on I had a teacher that gave me extra work as a reward for my boredom. Sounds insane, but it worked. Evidently keeping me busy was the answer. This teacher was a part of my educational experience from the middle of fifth grade through the end of junior high. What is even more important about this woman was that she also had the unique opportunity of teaching both of the Rowe children. Poor woman. My brother and I are as different as night and day in the classroom. But regardless of how we were in the classroom she pushed us every step of the way and was genuinely concerned with our happiness and success. She even spoke at his baptism. Her impact on our lives is something we still talk about. Just last week when we were in Boise my little brother started talking about how much he liked school (he would never say now that he likes school) when he was in her classroom.

High school for me was two completely different experiences. There were the two years at one high school that were a continuation of my junior high years in terms of attitude and success and then there were two years at another high school that have largely shaped the college student I've become.

The first two years of high school can be characterized for me as one mistake after another. I can't say my friends were the kind any decent parent would like their child to have, I can't say my attitude was any better than any typical fourteen or fifteen year old, and I can't say my scholarship was anything worth remembering. In fact the only time I even cared about my schoolwork was when I was in art class (I graduated high school with art honors--the only person in my graduating class to do so), in one teacher's English class, and in every single class they stuck me in that Bert Marley was teaching. Art was a release for me. English was a pleasure. And Mr. Marley was the challenge. World History, German, and Mythology. Not my top subjects by any stretch of the imagination, but something about Bert's teaching style and concern for me kept me going back and kept me enrolled in school. I'm sure I've mentioned before that as a sixteen year old there was nothing I wanted more than to drop out of high school. Nothing in the whole world. But I didn't because I had fabulous teachers my sophomore year who gave me direction and discipline and a wise guidance counselor who kept placing me in Bert's classes.

My sophomore English teacher was/is wonderful. Her husband is now the Bannock County Clerk and every time I see either of them I am greeted with hugs and the reminder of how much I owe her. My sophomore year I was introduced to the Romantic poets and I'm not sure anything about reading for me has been the same since I first read Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, and Pearl S. Buck.

After my sophomore year we moved which is a hard thing, I think, for any sixteen year old. New environment, new friends, new everything. It turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me as a teenager. Though I had two amazing teachers at the previous high school, I wasn't thriving and I wasn't happy. The next high school would change everything for me and it would once again be the teachers that left the lasting impression.

I continued taking art classes, but it wasn't art that saved me. It was one very kind, gentle, U.S. History teacher who took me under her wing and challenged me. There is nothing like a good challenge in the classroom and she did just that. With her the lessons she taught me extended far beyond the walls of that classroom and some of the greatest things she ever taught me didn't happen in the classroom. She was far more than my teacher as she supported me through some of the most difficult personal trials I've ever experienced. She was and continues to be one of my greatest friends and cheerleaders. She is a constant reminder to me of what a person is capable of enduring. We stay in touch and I still feel like she is rooting for me on the sidelines as I navigate my way through college.

As a senior in high school I had another English teacher that challenged me and introduced me to beautiful literary works. When I think about him I still wonder why I am not an English major. Just a week or two ago I emailed him to ask a couple of questions and among a number of comments and answers he shot back was a statement that there is nothing in the whole damn world better than Tolstoy. His enthusiasm about English made me want to be in his classroom every single day. His enthusiasm is something I hope to have every last day of my academic career. He is responsible for my love of James Joyce and he introduced me to The Picture of Dorian Gray. I had never read something so heavy and profound and even today can't think of another single reading experience that hit me so hard.

When I graduated from high school I was living with a couple, two married teachers from my high school, and their family after a particularly rough go with my own family. Being with them allowed me to graduate from high school which was at that time my ultimate goal next to getting into college. It was a far cry from the person I was as I approached my sixteenth birthday. To them I am forever grateful as well.

As a college student I have had three professors that have been just as influential, if not more so, than those I had in high school. One has since left ISU, but remains a huge part of my life. Two semesters in her classroom were nowhere near enough time for me with her, but two semesters in her classroom taught me a lifetime of lessons. The other two will serve on my graduate thesis committee. And one of those two has become my dear friend and mentor. The influence of these educators is endless.

Finishing Freedom Writers had me thinking a lot about impressions. The teachers I've had in my life have left lasting impressions on me. They have done for me what no one else in my life was able to do--point me down the path I should travel and give me a slight push when needed. As I've been thinking over the impact they've had on my life I can only hope that I have left some sort of impression on them. I hope I'm the kind of student that reminds teachers why they are in the classroom. I hope I'm the kind of student that rewards them with even small successes. Without a doubt I didn't used to be the kind of student any teacher would want in their class, but on the other hand had I not been that kind of student I don't think I'd be talking about these wonderful men and women who changed my life forever.

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