This week is Teacher Appreciation Week at , of Menlo Park. It is a chance for our students to invite their favorite teacher from school to come check out their amazing martial arts skills. We will also be giving the teachers gifts in recognition of all they do for their students.
It got me thinking about the amazing teachers that I’ve had in my life. I was so amazingly lucky to have great teachers throughout my education. I can’t invite them to teacher appreciation week, so I thought I’d write about them here.
These are five of the most influential teachers I can remember from elementary school, high school, and college.
#5 – Bruce Hertford
Dr. Hertford was my high school drama teacher. (Yes, I was a drama geek.) He was charismatic, funny, and a good teacher. We shared the same birthday, as it turns out. I admired and adored Dr. Hertford. He also drove me crazy. He pushed me to find new limits in my abilities. He taught me to see new possibilities. He chose plays for us to do that were not your typical high school material, and he helped us to put on great performances of the work. He was a perfectionist. I had to learn to stand up for myself in his class, and how to do it respectfully. I am more organized, more confident, and more reflective because of him.
#4 – Jane Wortman
Ms. Wortman was my Math Analysis teacher in High School. I remember the day she taught us about limits by jumping half the distance to the wall repeatedly… until she hit the wall. Stuck in my mind forever. Ms. Wortman was also the teacher that sat down on the steps next to me one day to ask if everything was okay at home because my grades in her class were much much lower than I had gotten in math in the past. The problem wasn’t at home; the problem was trigonometry. But I think it was one of the few times in high school that I understood my teachers cared about more than what happened in the classroom. Ms. Wortman was also the person that recruited me for Academic Decathlon my senior year and connected me to a new group of friends. I learned a lot about how to teach from her. I learned that teaching and learning is a full-body experience and that different people have different styles of taking information in. I also learned that it’s important to see all of someone and not just the work that they produce.
#3 – Professor Mitchell Block
Professor Block is a film professor at USC. When I was at CAL he taught a class on Documentary Film. Aside from introducing me to a short film called “The Bicycle Shop” by this (then) little company called Pixar, Professor Block taught me how to understand media and to be a smart consumer of information. He taught me the power of a sound bite, and the impact of editing. I learned to understand that everyone who tells a story is trying to make a point, to sway you from one side to another. What I learned in his class was so much more important than learning about film. It helped me to understand the world and how to communicate with it.
#2 – Cheryl Katz
Mrs. Katz taught me math in seventh and eighth grade. She actually taught me to ENJOY math. I remember she said that what we learned in her class would help us forever, and of course we hardly believed her. I admit, the one piece of math I use the most is calculating discounts, and she is the one who taught me the formula for how to do that. I used my notes from that class to study for the GRE’s almost 10 years later. The single most important thing I learned from Mrs. Katz was to pay attention to details. I used to get entire equations wrong because I would add instead of subtract (or vice versa) in the first or second step. She taught me to slow down and notice the little things.
#1 – Ron Brown
Initially Mr. Brown made me incredibly nervous. I had to give him a message from my homeroom teacher on the first day of school. I walked in and waited to talk to him. I stared at my feet as I delivered the message. He asked for eye contact. Eye contact was important. He also taught me to read through a test before you start in on it, just to make sure you know where it’s going. He taught me about leadership. He taught me how to do a research project and to do an oral report. Not one of us stood in front of class and read off the note cards. We didn’t write word-for-word what we were going to say. We memorized, practiced, gave ourselves reminders on note cards (numbered, for when you dropped them), and we made EYE CONTACT. He loved our class so much that he taught seventh grade for one year in order to stay with us. He also chaperoned our eight grade trip to Catalina. At my 10 year high school reunion, no fewer than 5 men I had graduated with told me they had become teachers because of Mr. Brown. His influence ran deep, and it ran wide. There are over 329 members of the Ron Brown Memorial Group on Facebook. Every one of us has a story of how he made us bigger and better.