by Patrice Palmer
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
One of the icebreakers that I use with my TESL trainees is to ask them to think about their favourite teacher and explain why they choose this person. I like to do this because I want teachers-in-training to reflect on who they might want to model and also think about the everlasting qualities of this memorable educator. I believe that every one of us has had a teacher who has made an impact or a difference in our lives. Years later, their influence lives on. Who is that teacher for you? My most memorable teacher was Miss Brown.
In 1966-67, I was a Grade 4 student at Bedson Elementary School in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Miss Brown was kind and good-natured, and she saw the potential in each and every student. She never yelled at us (despite teaching 34 rambunctious 8-year olds all day in high heels) but rather treated us as people. I remember how every Friday afternoon Miss Brown would read aloud from a Hardy Boys book, leaving us hanging for more until the following week. We also spent a lot of time completing “levelled reading packs” which consisted of a story of a famous person. One particular story that I still remember was about George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery. Imagine reading that in 1966! After reading on our own, we would answer questions which she would check. If we answered most of the questions correctly, we were able to select a reading from the next level. This pushed me to develop my reading skills without realizing I was doing that. Miss Brown instilled a love of reading which I still hold deeply today.
Miss Brown was quite extraordinary for her time, because every summer she and her mom (who she lived with) travelled to an exotic country. This was quite unusual at the time, given that air travel in 1966 would have been costly and very time-consuming. On special occasions, Miss Brown would show us photographs and artefacts from around the world. I remember seeing photos of the Sphinx in Egypt, thinking that one day I would be standing in the same spot where she stood taking that same photo. Years later, when I walked on the Egyptian tarmac, I touched the ground and said a thank you to Miss Brown. I don’t think I ever would have travelled to Egypt if it weren’t for Miss Brown’s own adventure there in the 1960’s. As teachers, we should never forget the power of images in our own classrooms.
One of the most profound photographs that I saw in my Grade 4 class was that of a shiny gold Buddha. Miss Brown had travelled to Japan, and I remember thinking that the Buddha was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I had so many questions about the statue. What did it mean? Why had I never seen anything like it before? Years later, I would read everything I could about Buddhism and see some of the most fascinating statues in Thailand and Myanmar. Miss Brown contributed to my curiosity about countries and cultures by “bringing the world” into our classroom.
So, if Miss Brown were a teacher in 2018, what would she do differently? I think she would still treat her students like people and see the potential in everyone. She would encourage us to grow as young people and instill an excitement in learning, whether through reading or research. I believe she would have even more stamps in her passport and share what she had learned about the world with us. Her own passion for learning would be evident and contagious.
When I think about how Miss Brown influenced me as an educator, I would say that it is by seeing the potential in every student and encouraging them to dream big. Her legacy has helped me think about how teachers can inspire students by exploring the world (either in person or through movies or other media), thinking about the beauty of diversity on the planet, and through love of learning anything, not just English!
Who was your “Miss Brown”? How did this teacher impact who you are as a teacher? As the Adams quote in the beginning of this post suggests, we never can tell where our influence stops.