November 28, 2011

TableTopics: #32

Who has inspired you as a mentor and why? (I'll change that last word to 'how'.)

Largely all of my mentors are teachers I've taught with or learned from. They're the ones I've seen in action, the ones I've learned from, the ones who've shown me what to (and in some cases what not to do).

The most prevalent influence on my teaching style was Pru Phillips (that's Pru on the left of the photo - thanks, Wabash, for posting that) of Crafordsville high school. Pru was the wife of the David Phllips, head of the chemistry department at Wabash College when I was a student there. Pru didn't take many student teachers and only then during the second semester, but she was kind enough to take me on for the spring of 1996 - partially at the recommendation of her husband. My students today would likely have recognized the mechanics of Pru's classroom - the BAT sheets, the homework folders, the lab report formatting, the demonstrations - as I picked up many of my techniques from her. She worked tirelessly, put in long hours, and recognized that connecting with the students was every bit as important as presenting curriculum to them. She was a spectacular teacher, and I am lucky to have known her. The Best Man, coincidentally, was lucky to have had her as his chemistry teacher, and he has parlayed that solid footing into a career in chemistry, now at Proctor and Gamble.

Lee Cordrey (sadly I can't find a photo of him online) taught with me at Mount Healthy High School. Lee didn't bring the greatest chemical knowledge to the classroom, having been trained as a middle school science teacher and shifting to the high school at some point. Lee brought a sense of joy to the classroom and an easy-going demeanor that I have hoped to carry along in my years. Yes, there is curriculum to be covered, but there is a lot of fun to be had in the process, and I have Lee to thank for reminding me of that from time to time.

Doug Studer, my teaching neighbor for more than a decade at Princeton High School, has shown me much of how to be a good teacher. I was initially skeptical of Doug's teaching as he asked some questions those first couple of years that made me wonder how well he know the chemistry content. As I learned, however, this was entirely reasonable because Doug was originally trained as a history teacher who slid into chemistry to better his chances of getting a j.o.b. Doug is a year more senior than I at Princeton, and he has been somewhat burdened with a schedule drastically different from mine - initially taking the lowest science classes we had to offer. In the past decade, however, Doug has turned himself into a spectacular teacher, primarily through hard work. For a long time, I was of the belief that teachers were largely born, that the ability to lead a classroom was an innate skill that people either had or didn't have, but Doug has shown me that a willingness to work and improve oneself is easily as important as any natural leanings toward teaching that a person might have.

As much as it pains me to say this - because I know she'll end up reading this and I'll never hear the end of this, Rebecca Heckman (calencoriel, for those of you in the know) has actually taught me a heck of a lot, too. I haven't been able to teach beside her, so I haven't taken much in-classroom material from her, but she does a masterful job of walking the tightrope of being a teacher leader within the building. She has been my department chair under three principals now, and each one has held her in high regard, allowing her to lead our department - in various ways as leadership has dictated - for over a decade. She is far more diplomatic than I, is generous with her time to her students (she was making Facebook groups and IMing her students long before I ever considered it), and is willing to spend hours and hours at Princeton to help her students out. I still have much to learn from her.

I wish I had somebody to list from my year at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, but I only spent one year there. The first year of teaching is mostly just an exercise in trying to keep your head above water, and I don't know how much of what I was learning is anything I was actually, overtly aware that I was learning. I owe thanks to lots of folks there: Melanie Huber, my official mentor and department chair, the other four new first-year teachers in our department (it was a fun year), and loads of other folks whose names have drifted from my brain over the years.

In case you're late to the party, here's the deal...

Here's what I've answered so far...
  • #25 - "I Know What Love Is" by Don White
  • #35 - no business 
  • #36 - MLK, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech on the National Mall 
  • #16 - first college visit home
  • #19 - No 
  • #22 - Skydiving
  • #24 - Beastie Boys in NYC
  • #27 - Fight Club / Primer / Hoosiers / Grosse Pointe Blank and Slaughterhouse Five / All-Star Superman
Already requested answers...they'll be answered (probably in this order)...
  • 37
Feel free to request other answers in the comments.


Ame said...

I find it interesting that you don't include the old man on this list. I find that his connection with students has encouraged me to more connect with my students. I also find myself on days that I want to rip my hair out relying on things he told me early on. Of course you never had him for a teacher like I did so that might make for a different view.

PHSChemGuy said...

He's a big influence, but I don't know what he's given me as a teacher.