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Who Was Your Best Teacher?

Quora question: Who Was Your Best Teacher?

My Answer:

Can I have 2 best teachers?

One of my best teachers was a college professor named Dr. Arce. Why does she stand out in my mind? Was it because she was passionate about her teaching of botany? Partly. Was it because during her lectures she would use her body to demonstrate how a plant process worked to help our understanding? Again, partly. What seals the deal of her being a “stand out” teacher for me was that she taught me what it really means to “think” and learn on my own. I was initially annoyed by what she did but later on I understood it and loved it.

Story: I had a question about the chemistry of clay particles in the soil and how that affected the way water either runs through the particles or gets “stuck” on them. I asked Dr. Arce my question and she said, “What do you think?” I said, “I’m not sure so that is why I asked you.” Dr. Arce, “Go home and think about it.” Ugh…I did think about it and then the next day I went back to her and told her what I thought. She responded with, “Go home and think about it again.” I was really annoyed by this at the time but I went home and thought even more about the answer to my question. When I went back the next day and asked her AGAIN, she said, “What do you think?” I told her what I thought and she said, “You were right the whole time. I just wanted you to think about it and come up with the answer on your own.”

The lesson that she taught me would help me throughout all of the college classes I took AND helped me become a better teacher for my own students. This does not mean that I never answered student’s questions. It meant that I built in much more “Think Time” for my students and gave them the time they needed to process information on their own. I think of this as “academic struggle.” Not so much that a person totally gives up, just enough struggle time for students to learn. We make new synaptic connections (learning) when we work through confusion on our own. We need to do this in order to learn so Dr. Arce taught me an important lesson that I still use when I’m confused. I allow myself time to process, think and work through it. Thank you Dr. Arce!

My other “best” teacher was my Calculus professor.

He was working on a HUGE problem that took up the entire white board. The students were doing their best to follow the problem in their notes and in their minds. Suddenly he stopped, turned to look at us, turned red with embarrassment and realized that he got confused and lost in the problem. A student in the front row gently guided him to finish.

Instead of brushing this off he used this as an amazing teachable moment.

Here is what he did:

  1. He asked us if we thought he was stupid. We collectively said “no.”

  2. He then said that he was not a “melon head” and neither were we.

  3. The lesson: He explained about the fight or flight syndrome and said that once he got momentarily confused, instead of going back to the place in the problem where he understood, he got nervous because he was in front of us, got into the fight or flight syndrome, produced adrenaline and got so stressed that he could no longer think. He then drew a picture on the board of a human brain, showed the reptilian part of our brain and the frontal lobes and explained that when we get too stressed we go to our reptilian brain and we need to return to our frontal lobe thinking. He gave us concrete strategies for exactly how to do this. (Breathe slowly, go back to a place where we last understood and start over). This lesson was SO impactful to me that I began to study the brain more and more and then I taught this to all of my students.

Final Thought: Even though my professor was teaching Calculus, his off-topic lesson was one of the best I ever had. He turned an embarrassing moment into an incredibly helpful life lesson. Dr. Arce taught me more than botany. She taught me to think.

The lesson from my Calculus teacher was so important to me that I included the story as one of the chapters in my teacher support book, “Wait, Don’t Quit.” (I probably should have also included the story about Dr. Arce!)

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