Teacher Appreciation Week: NWEA Teacher Perspectives

Teacher Appreciation Week:  NWEA Teacher PerspectivesWe’re fortunate, here at NWEA, to work with educators and school staff from all corners of the country. We hear uplifting stories of teachers making a profound difference in not only their students’ education, but also in their lives. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, our Teach-Learn-Grow blog has featured these stories, including the most recent teacher of the year, and the teachers (and parents) of one of our assessment partners.

Today, we share stories from our staff about teachers who have helped shape their lives. Here are their stories, in their own words.

Matt Chapman, President and CEO

Dr. Mike McCoy taught me linear programing and a variety of other subjects while I was at University of Portland and he was chair of the math department.  For linear programing he did it as a one on one course, since I had a particular interest in it, and we would play chess while going over what I had studied and prepared between sessions.  It was the ultimate nerd-vana of learning.

But the subject matter, and even the setting, were not the reason I would pick Mike even among all the other extraordinary teachers from whom I was privileged to learn.  Mike also is exceptional in his perspective on issues, and his commitment to using “higher order thinking” to solve all sorts of problems – whether it’s the math that underlies airline scheduling or the concept of social purpose bonds that are repaid through improvements in society from programs like preventive health care and proper support for very young children through nutrition, education, and caring environments.  And, best of all, I still get to meet with Mike over breakfast or lunch and discuss these issues – so his teaching and mentoring continues even 44 years after the courses have ended.

Bear Noland, Research Associate, Data Services

I am not sure you asked the right person but I’d have to say Mr. Bloomquist, my World History teacher in the 10th grade.  Both my parents had died in a car crash in my 8th grade year and I had been living on the streets of Santa Cruz ever since. Mrs. Sims was the Soquel High secretary and I had to forge all the documentation to get into school. It had been a rough time for me.  She looked the other way as long as I was attending classes and doing well.

There were two affluent 10th grade girls and Mr. Bloomquist put us on a team together to report on the Khan dynasty. We met once and the girls ignored me completely. I read the chapters twice and went up to the front of the class with the girls. No notes but book in hand. I answered every question and in a few minutes it became a game of “Stump Bear”.  They finally asked a question about a specific date, at which point Mr. Bloomquist stepped in to disallow that question. I said it was fine; told the class to turn their books to a given page and refer to the 2nd paragraph and proceeded to quote the text. Mr. Bloomquist looked, smiled and winked at me.  He had drawn me out of my shell in a way that his years of teaching had perfected.  I will never forget him and I am grateful to this very day.

I am close to 60 now and Mr. Bloomquiist was an older person back then himself. I had never known that photographic memory was unique or wasn’t shared by everyone. He had shown everyone else that my lack of money and family was not something that would limit my intelligence.

Sylvia St. Cyr , Account Executive, Midwest Region

The 60’s were complicated.  To set context, I remember atomic bomb safety drills vividly.  I never attended school with a student of color, or a student with special needs. We were all traditional June and Ward Cleaver kids, growing up in a world that seemed so calm on the surface, as deep underlying national concerns and issues were spiraling out of control underneath.

By the time I was in 6th grade, the Vietnam War was in full swing, The Beatles were a music revolution, and classroom practices slowly started shifting away from traditional norms.

One teacher stands out for me during that time period – Mr. Henry Schmidt.  He was my 6th grade teacher and he fascinated me!  I never knew what to expect in his classroom, and learning took a turn for me that year from seeming imprisonment to an endless world of fascinating topics to explore.  I never realized that learning could be fun, complex, and interesting!  Mr. Schmidt had us all captivated, at all times.  I remember listening to the lyrics of “Hey Jude” with headphones on and then being probed with complicated questions about the song… What does it mean?  How can you interpret the lyrics?  How does it connect to you?  Our Christmas party was at his house, and he took us each out on a toboggan dragged across the ice on a snowmobile.  I STILL remember how exhilarating and cold it was, and how the hot chocolate his wife made for us afterwards warmed the life back into my hands and toes. My favorite Mr. Schmidt memory is when he came into our classroom after recess and began putting all of our desks into a pod… What was he up to?  He then proceeded to climb on top of the desks (“Oh Captain, my Captain” style).  Once on top, he had a golf club in his hand, and he showed us how to swing it.  I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for the principal to see him and drag him off!  I was seriously worried that he’d gone too far.

Memories of Classroom - Teacher Appreciation WeekI absolutely treasure the memories he gave me, and he was the inspiration for me to become a teacher myself.  I looked him up several years ago, and when I called to speak to him, the school secretary said: “He’s with his class right now… making furniture”.  I was not surprised.  He was happy to hear from me, but I could tell he didn’t remember me.  I thanked him for the strong contribution he had in my path to becoming a teacher. What Mr. Schmidt never knew at the time was that things at home were not safe or comfortable for me, and that I was experiencing fear and stress.  He didn’t know that being in his classroom was the very best part of my day, and the very safest and understood I would ever feel. I always kept this in mind when I was teaching.  As educators, we may be the only safe haven for a student. This is a non-negotiable that every student deserves; a safe place.

Mr. Schmidt taught me one more lesson on that last call, of course.  He taught me that even though I may never remember every student I ever taught over the decades, it doesn’t mean that they will forget me.  How do I want them to remember me?  My goal as a teacher was to be that catalyst for my students… to open doors for them to new experiences; to welcome them and make them feel safe and engaged.  I’m sure I wasn’t as effective as Mr. Schmidt, as he set the bar very high, but what a wonderful example he was for me to consider in my own work.  It’s the distinction between being a teacher or an educator. I believe I was an educator and I also believe it’s because of him.