Sometimes You Have to Find the Right Person…

Theodora PapapanagiotouSometimes You Have to Find the Right Person…

by Theodora Papapanagiotou.


When I first saw the theme of this issue, it seemed like a topic for an elementary school essay. A description. But it’s probably more than just a description. It is a story about one of the people who influenced you the most. In the end, this is what all of us do – influence the students we teach. 

I always say that after I teach my students for a while, eventually they get my quirks. I am just joking, of course, but in fact, getting influenced by the people you spend a lot of time with is inevitable. In this post I want to talk about my first and only German teacher. I studied the language with university professors after my time with her, but Ms Mary was the only person who actually taught me the language. And not only that. 

Let’s start from the beginning. I was about 10. In Greece it is customary that children attend an extra language school, mostly to learn English. At that time I had already started learning English and I was actually pretty good at it. My parents decided that I should learn a second foreign language. Back then, the “extra” language was not necessary. In fact, almost nobody learned a second foreign language. And I had to do it! 

Imagine how a typical ten-year-old would think: “All kids are out playing and I have to study German? More homework? And how about the pronunciation? What kind of language is that?” I couldn’t stand even listening to that language. Needless to say, I didn’t want to go. I shed a lot of tears before my first German lesson. I finally went, with my face down, and I swore I would be annoying so that the teacher would send me home. 

Ms Mary owned a language school just across the street from my house. She was a middle-aged woman, her kids already grown-up. Very well dressed, she had short blonde hair, really modern make-up, and wore colourful glasses. She looked very impressive. There she was, waiting for me in her big school, with her big smile. All the walls inside the school were covered with posters and pictures, colours everywhere. It looked like a playground of some kind. 

In our first lesson we started talking about Germany, about chocolate, about how easy it is to travel across Europe if you speak two languages. With that, she caught my interest. Learning a second language could make me special?! Was that possible? 

Ms Mary was a very strict and traditional teacher. Her lessons included lots of pattern drills, learning by heart, and a good deal of writing. I had to be perfect. I had to learn really difficult texts by heart. I never understood why I had to do that, but believe it or not, when I had to “recite” my text, I remembered words, their meanings, and grammar. I could talk. 

I continued having lessons with Ms Mary until the age of 17. She gradually became like family to me. We talked about the trips I wanted to take, my dreams and hopes and plans. She was there when I prepared for the university entrance exams. She was always there to help. 

And with her help, I did it. I succeeded in my university entrance exams and started studying German literature and language. During my college years, I still had my notebooks with her notes and tips, which were a kind of a Bible for me. I continued to see her sometimes as I went by her school just to say hi. She was just across the street from my house anyway. 

When I graduated, she offered me my first job teaching in her school. It was just one class that I taught for just a year. Ms Mary retired the following year and she closed down the school. That year was a wonderful experience for me. Somebody trusted me enough, a young person who had just finished her studies, and this was pretty big. 

I will always treasure the relationship I had with my teacher. After all, she was the reason I am a teacher today. 

I hope I can be like her some day. 


A Teacher Who Made a Difference

Chris MaresA Teacher Who Made a Difference

by Chris Mares.


Perhaps you are expecting me to write about a fellow language teacher who made a difference to me. I could, after all, because a lot of teachers have influenced me positively and made a difference. But I’m not going to write about a language teacher, I’m going to write about my Tae Kwon Do Master, George Manlove. 

Our group met twice a week and consisted of both students with black belts and students who were complete beginners. Despite this range we were taught as a single class. 

We would start out with a series of exercises and stretches that were similar each class. They were not too demanding and anyone could pick them up quite quickly, including complete beginners. We would count in Korean and Master Manlove would call on the more experienced students to lead the count. 

Even on my first day I could tell I was fortunate to have an excellent teacher who provided both structure and direction and included all students in the class. The model was very much that of an apprentice with a skilled master. 

And there was no doubt we were being taught by a master. He noticed everything but would only comment when necessary and was always sure that all his students got feedback. 

As a teacher myself, I became captivated by Master Manlove’s style. He had presence and bearing and was always in control. His equitable approach and obvious skills resulted in a great respect from the students. We knew that our Master would take us as far as we wanted or were able to go. 

Master Manlove would stand at the front of the class, facing us. The students were assembled in rows according to their belt color, black belts at the front, beginners at the rear. 

Master Manlove would model all the moves and the students would do as he did, as best they could. Students then received feedback according to their level. 

At certain points Master Manlove would have students break into groups to practice different skills or to simply spar. Usually the more skilled students would be asked to work with small groups of less skilled students. In this sense, some of the teaching was delegated. However, Master Manlove ensured that he visited all groups and gave everyone feedback. 

The tone of the practice was always one of deference and respect. Master Manlove was attentive to what everyone was doing and all he asked was that everyone treat each appropriately and try their hardest. He emphasized the value of regular practice, not just attending class. 

Master Manlove taught us that Tae Kwon Do was a discipline of both the body and mind. Our version was non-contact so all punches and kicks were pulled. Any contact, especially if hard, was viewed as demonstrating a lack of skill and self-discipline. 

Master Manlove’s manner of teaching showed us the importance of humility and respect. We were also taught to help others as best we could, to put away the mats we had used, and to return the room to the state we had found it in or better if it had been messy. 

Tae Kwon Do is far more than self-defense, it is a practice based on self-discipline and effort. The more you put in, the more you get out. We learned the importance of stretching and breathing and the importance of one’s bearing. In short, Master Manlove’s approach was both humanistic and holistic. It impacted every aspect of each student’s life in some form or other. 

At the end of class the students would gather in a circle to repeat a parting phrase together in Korean before we were released. 

This is what I learned from Master Manlove: 

* The teacher is the Master while students are apprentices. 

* Learning must become a regular practice. 

* Students must respect themselves and show respect for others. 

* The teacher can expect to have students of differing skill levels in one class. 

* The students themselves are a resource. 

* A class needs to have a shape – a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

* All students must be included and feel included. 

* Students can only learn new skills that are just beyond their reach. 

* Feedback must be useful. 

* Instructions must be clear. 

* The teacher must hold students accountable for their actions. 

* The teacher must be encouraging and consistent. 

* A class can be purposeful and fun. 

* Every now and again switch things up and do something different. 

* The teacher must be a model in all things. 

Master Manlove taught me about presence. He demonstrated that language was not always necessary to run a class. He modelled inclusiveness and fairness. All that mattered was effort on behalf of the students. He would teach each person at their level, offering only pointers that they were able to follow. 

Master Manlove is a true master, and in my life he made a difference for which I am, in all humility, grateful. 

Miss Brown

Patrice Palmer profile pictureMiss Brown

by Patrice Palmer


A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

Henry Adams


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.



The Three Teachers

Aziz SoubaiThe Three Teachers

by Aziz Soubai.


I can talk about the teachers who influenced my life until the cows come home. There are so many teachers who shaped my personality, the way I think and see the world, and they all deserve paying tribute to. However, I would like to focus on the three teachers, each one of whom represents a particular phase in my personal and professional life. 

When I was in the 5th grade (11 or 12 years old), I was taught by a very tough and compassionate teacher (I will later explain why I use this apparently weird combination of adjectives to describe him). At that time I was hard-working and paid a lot of attention in class. I was actually among the three top students. At this very young age, we were all in awe of this great teacher. Why? Simply because he put an incredible amount of effort into explaining the material. I wonder now if he had ever experienced some kind of burnout. It was clear that he was obviously in love with the profession, he loved teaching. This love made him unstoppable. At first we couldn’t keep up with his huge enthusiasm to teach and engage us in the process, but later on, we (or let’s say some of us) loved his personality and methodology. Those who couldn’t keep up were having problems at first and then they changed their style and became good students. At the end of semester and school year, we organized a school party and discovered the other, hidden part of our teacher’s character – he could be, in fact, very sweet. For instance, he shared some stories about his personal life and sometimes jokes and this made us giggle a little, but with total respect. At that time we began to understand that this seemingly strict attitude was just his expression of tough love. 

I have a mix of bitter and sweet memories of my high school years. At that troublesome time, during that adolescent boredom, especially in the first year, my motivation level hits the bottom. I turned from a hard-working, studious learner into a little troublemaker and this, of course, affected my grades, particularly in English and Arabic. I managed to move on to the next level because I successfully prepared for other exams. And that was when my story with the second teacher began. I was not a science major in high school, but the funny thing is, I became extremely passionate about natural science because of the teacher. This teacher was not only passionate but also exceptionally knowledgeable. He had a unique, soothing voice. He brought in extra information and stories and could always find a way to incorporate them into his teaching materials, which made the whole process interesting and beautiful. Some of his natural science lessons are still stuck in my memory to this day. More importantly, this unique teacher had zero classroom issues, even though those very students were uncontrollable and behaved in all sorts of ways in other school subjects. 

University teachers had a tremendous effect on me and the kind of language I speak and write. I loved to learn foreign languages from a very young age, especially English and French. I was addicted to American shows and series, picking up so many words and idiomatic expressions particularly from Oprah, Dr.Phil, and Friends. I had a huge passion for English literature and poetry, and that passion increased to a great extent in the fourth year at university, when I was taught by another awesome teacher. He used to read poetry aloud in class, chanting beautifully with rhymes and rhythm.  

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion  

Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,  

Then reached the caverns measureless to man…  

These lines from the poem Kubla Khan” by S.T. Coleridge are  still carved in my memory. They were like soft music to my ear. This way of teaching made me eager to read and enjoy more long pieces of poetry, like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land. Bottomline is, not only the teaching techniques or strategies the teacher used left an impact, but also his ardent passion for teaching, which was contagious. Research shows that “the best teachers are passionate about teaching. They are intensely curious about the world and love learning new things. They are also driven by a deep desire to teach and help others. These teachers give their heart and soul to their work, and to the students they teach.”    

I believe that touching people’s lives and making them better citizens and individuals should be the ultimate purpose of education and teaching. It is not about how much technology you incorporate in the lessons or how many visual aids and colors you use in your class. Instead, it is about how much energy, enthusiasm, and passion you have for this tough profession. It is about how you turn a very lazy, unmotivated learner into a creative one. My final message is, love your job or change it. Otherwise, you will continuously suffer on a personal and professional level because you expect others to love what you don’t love. And this is the very definition of doublethink.