Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ghosts of Zombie Teachers Past

In honor of the beginning of the school year, I'd like to give a shout out to all those teachers over the years who inspired me to become the Zombie Teacher that I am today. My odd mix of insanity, OCD, random moments of genius, and passion for my craft were all influenced on some level by each of these people. Forgive me, old teachers, for butchering your names, and if you have become a member of the undead in the twenty odd years since we last met, PLEASE DON'T EAT ME!

To my 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Wesley: You wrote my name on the board for the first time ever, and nearly one of the last times. It was well deserved. The entire class was sitting in circle time waiting for Mrs. Wesley to begin our daily meeting, and I was jokingly pounding my hand on the floor, instructing my neighborhood friend Julie to sit on my fist. I thought it was a funny way to save a seat. Now seen through a more mature, teacher's eyes, I can see how she might have thought I was trying to be perverted.

To my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Borgschatz: You made me truly love to read and find books for myself. I remember you reading "I Love You Forever" to the whole class, which is remarkably gutsy. You were not afraid to cry in front of us reading it, and we were not afraid to cry with you. On another occasion, I didn't pass the pre-test to join the advanced group's lit circle. They were reading "A Wrinkle in Time" and I wanted to read it too. You gave me a copy to read on my own, and I have probably read it about ten times since, along with its sequel and the sequel to that... and now the Newberry Award-winning "When You Reach Me" that also references the book on several pages. (I read that twice in one weekend)

To my crazy 7th grade speech teacher, Mrs. Lutz: Thank you for embarrassing me entirely by singing "Mandy" by Barry Manilow to me on the first day of school. I almost died of humiliation. But that maybe got me laughing with the people who were laughing at me enough to allow me to meet my very best friends in the grade. You were wacky, entertaining, and probably the most like "me" that a teacher could ever be. I think I would make you proud. You taught us that not only was it okay to be weird, it was fun to be weird! We took our empowered new attitude to our local bowling alley, and promptly named each bowling pin after one of the snotty popular girls who picked on us. Then we went "Bowling for Bi%*#es" and knocked them all out with strikes and spares. At my best I had a 134 handicap!

To my 8th grade science teacher, I can't remember your name... but you looked a bit like Seinfeld: Thanks for breaking the rules and letting a few brave souls sample the squids we dissected. (Maybe it's a good thing I can't remember your name!) We also dissected frogs, made wooden race car models, and I even remember having you for homeroom because you let us play B.S. and Spoons every morning before school started. We did a peanut butter and jelly lab where we had to give EXPLICIT instructions for every step of the process, and you hilariously followed them, which usually meant that the peanut butter was on TOP of the bread, or the slices were still in the bag when you covered them with toppings... or the sandwich was made directly on the table using your own fingers because we forgot to write "spread with a KNIFE". I have very vivid images forming in my head right now and it's making me hungry for a SANDWICH!!!!

To my 9-12th grade band director Mr. Maeck: You TOTALLY underrated me on my ninth grade audition and put me behind three absolutely mediocre flute players. You taught me how to persevere through adversity, as I challenged my way from 4th chair to 1st chair. You patiently waited through the ensuing six weeks and listened to the tedious challenges when we both played blindly for you, and I clearly whipped their butts on major scales and ad-libbing my way through new music. You even put up with the first chair flutist asking me to play the higher part on the intro duet to "Fanfare for the Common Man" because "she couldn't hit the high notes". After winning the musical crown, I nailed the solo at our band concert and earned many accolades from family and friends. I could probably still play those notes now, though my embouchure is a total blob of putty :o(  You gave me my first leadership role as a Section Leader in the marching band, and bestowed upon me the Best Marcher award, which I actually have in a cupboard in my classroom to this day. (I hung it on the wall during my first year as a joke, but nobody thought it was funny so I took it down ;o[ )

To my 9th grade science teacher Mr. Foreman: You had the best dry humor ever, for an earth science teacher who deals with rocks and astronomy and other concrete things. You taught me that "Gneiss" was "Nice" and that Bootes is the alpha star of Arcturus, and all sorts of other random trivia that is burned into my brain. We took an amazing field trip to Sandstone and the entire class was able to observe ancient history through glacial remains, abnormal rock formations and sneaking naughtily onto the train bridge that had no walking path. (No one died). We were an Honors class, and we were snarky, obnoxious know-it-alls. You rolled with the sarcasm on all but one day, when you yelled so loud and turned so bright red that it was hard to decide whether to laugh or cry. I think I settled for a little of both. But I still can name nearly all the constellations even without pointing my Android Star Map app at the sky!

To my 11th and 12th grade Algebra II and AP-Calc teacher Mrs. Trier, you were my fore-runner with meticulous data collection and analysis of each test, including mean, median, mode, range and standard deviation which you used to determine letter grades. You were the fairest teacher I have ever had. You never gave us any input into where we sat, but always seemed to have a knack to know who to separate and who could handle working together without either kissing or killing each other. You taught us about chunking polynomials with a can of "Chun King" noodles that sat perpetually on top of the clock. You were nice enough to assign some of the odd problems in the homework, even though most of us copied them from the back anyway. I even ran into you a few years later during my first year of teaching math, and you actually remembered my name! That is what means the most to kids.

And lastly, to my 11th grade AP History teacher Mr. Hoke, possibly the coolest cat on the planet: You taught me how to master the 5-paragraph essay. I went from getting C's on my first few essays, to getting A's and A-'s on every subsequent one, even though I could not care less about history. You MADE me care. You spent hours and hours and hours writing notes on every one of the three walls of white boards and then talked about the civil war (and all those other wars) with such passion that you made me want to care too. You organized Lincoln-Douglas debates and made us all dress in characters and act out roles. You dressed up as a baseball coach and held a "World Series" study session before the AP test so we could all cram. For a school subject that I don't really like, I somehow scraped a "4" on the AP test!!! What!?!? If I remember correctly, we all "skipped" the rest of the day of school with signed fake doctors notes (you idiot AP kids!) and were subsequently suspended for a day unless a doctor called to verify the illness. D'OH!

I hope some day to be on some of my students' lists in a similar fashion; whether it was to inspire them, or teach them something about life, or to help them discover a passion for math through zombie insanity. If any of this resonated with my readers, go on out there and thank your own teachers! I bet you can remember their names too! Let's get a love fest going as we head into a new year, and remember what we're all doing this for in the first place.


  1. Great post and took me back through all my teachers. Couple sure it was 8th grade squid cutting? I remember physics and chemistry. Bio was 7th and 10th.

    I think Mrs. Truman should be Ms. Trier for AP Calculus.

  2. Thanks Tim! You are right, that was Mrs. Truman. Maybe I'm getting my middle school years confused on the squid thing. I have very vivid memories about ski club, flute choir, gymnastics, some outdoor theme unit of measuring fronds, and not much else. I think I did get my 8th grade English teacher suspended from using the phone by passing out the phone code to another student! ;o)