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Last Tuesday, I experienced that weird role reversal of parent-teacher conferences. Suddenly, I felt that same anxiety that I had seen with so many of the parents of my former students. Were my son and daughter doing okay? Were they making friends? Were they being respectful? Were they mastering the standards?

My son and daughter love their teachers and these conferences were proof that their teachers love them as well. I was struck by just how well each of them knew my son and daughter — not just as students but as people. They showed evidence of student work, shared stories of social interactions, and offered insights that I might have missed otherwise.

I left with a sense of trust and gratitude for what these two teachers every single day. I realize that it’s November and it’s cold and wet. It’s dark before these teachers show up and it’s dark when they leave. I taught middle school for over a decade. I remember how hard late November and early December can be. And yet, these teachers are being intentional about making sure my kids have a safe, caring environment where they are also challenged academically.

That’s pretty awesome.

A few days later, it was Thanksgiving, and I shared the following video on my Facebook page.

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But I kept thinking of their teachers throughout the break. When Brenna chose a more challenging chapter book, she mentioned the word work she had done in class and talked about how fun it was to be in a reading group. And it struck me that her ability to read and even her passion for reading was because of a teacher. At eight o’clock last night as they grabbed their various novels and started reading, I was struck by the fact that they were all passionate readers.

Because of teachers.

When we were waiting at a restaurant, we played mental math games. They were thinking through problems and playing with numbers like it was a game. None of them are scared of math (like I was as a kid). In fact, they each think math is fun.

Because of teachers.

When Joel grabbed a pile of items and decided to create his own engineering challenge, he began sharing stories of his engineering class. “Dad, could we tour George Fox’s makerspace. I think I might want to major in it someday.” He’s in seventh grade. His interests might change but he has a passion for problem-solving that he’s developed in his STEM classes. He learning to think like an engineer.

Because of teachers.

When Micah sat down to write a story, he mentioned the blogging he was doing in class and talked about the story-planning process he had learned. When we watched movies, all three of them talked about the plot, the characters, and the themes that emerged. When we worked on our Scratch video game projects, they each asked if they could show the process to their teachers at school.

My kids love learning. They geek out for fun. They love to build and tinker and solve problems and get lost in the world of a novel. As I watch them own their learning, I am struck by the countless hours that teachers have invested in their life. I mention this because I still see so much teacher bashing out there. I’ve seen people mock teachers for wanting a living wage. I’ve listened to the eye-rolling statements about how much “free time” teachers have.

But here’s the thing. When I look at my kids, I am struck by the profound influence that teachers have had on their lives so far. They are becoming problem-solvers and makers. They are growing more empathetic. They are thinking more deeply and falling in love with learning. And this is happening because of teachers.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • Danny Duncan says:

    How may I get the words to Because of a Teacher?

  • ko says:

    I read a book once, “Empower”, that left me feeling some hope. Hope that generations of kids could avoid my school experience.

    The curiosity of many six and seven year old kids leads to dinosaurs, and mine developed into an extensive knowledge that easily rivaled that of anyone in my elementary school– adults included. This was an intense interest and curiosity that could have been a foundation for much deeper and far better learning. Because of teachers, however, it was made clear to six-year-old me that my interests were frivolous and should be suppressed to focus on the truly important topics in class.

    A few years later, my father picked up several sharks’ teeth while we were walking on the beach one day and my curiosity was sparked once again! This was the age before the internet and Google, but I immediately sifted through all of the sharks’ teeth that a local gift shop had organized and labeled by species for sale as jewelry. Before long, I could identify any tooth that washed up on our local beaches.

    I then turned to the encyclopedia set that my mother just purchased and my knowledge of sharks surely exceeded that of anyone in my school, quite possibly the entire school district, but because of teachers, I once again put my interest aside for the drudgery of school work. It was very near this time that my attitude regarding school began to sour.

    When I was thirteen, my father gave me a computer. Computers then were not much like computers now, in order to do anything on a computer then, it had to be programmed. So I did. I started off with some simple programs including a lottery simulator where I would charge the neighborhood kids a dollar for a ticket. The program would select three random numbers each week and if one of the tickets hit– and one did once– the ticket holder would receive the lion’s share of the money collected. As the lottery operator, I, of course, took a cut.

    As my skills developed, so did my programs. Like many, if not most (possibly all) middle school aged kids, I wanted to play games on my computer. My computer, being what it was, needed to be programmed so I set to work. After about six months of learning and failing and learning more and more, I played my first game. Shortly thereafter I began making improvements to it and, even as simple as it was, it was fun! I almost immediately began work on my next game.

    Because of teachers in multiple classes now and the increased homework, I was unable to spend the time the new game required and had to abandon it before it was complete. It was not lost on me that my interests were not seen as important at school; to school. Factoring polynomials and diagramming sentences and memorizing the date that the Magna Carta was signed was what I was told was important.

    A few years later in high school, I began to take an interest in cars. My interest was a little different than the other guys. I loved old Mustangs and Cobras and Ford GT40s, but I started wondering why there were so many parts?. Specifically, why were there so many different versions of the same general parts? So I learned more. I became interested in Formula 1 racing and studied the components and systems in those cars. Then I started sketching and designing my own cars and along with a line of modular engines.

    My engine line was extensive and included everything from a 1.6L Inline 4 to a whopping 6.0L V12. Those designs included V6s (with both 60º and 120º Vees), V8s, and even a V10. Each of those engines shared common parts like pistons, piston rods and cylinder liners and, in some cases, even cylinder heads. I studied and applied combustion chamber fuel-air mixing and efficiencies and experimented with different piston and valve designs. Some cars just coming out today have components or systems that resemble some of my sketches from years ago.

    My engines shared parts in order to increase manufacturing efficiency and reduce costs. The cars that I designed for them to go into were hybrid-modular designs focused on sustainability, efficiency, and safety. My first car’s shape was inspired by the shape the cooking oil that I put in a tube with water and food coloring took as I tilted the tube. The modular parts were designed to “shed” in a crash to disperse energy away from the passenger cabin, but could then be replaced later as they were, obviously, modular.

    Those ideas, along with my interest in sailing, started to transfer to boat, ship and even airplane design. I was excited and consumed with where this was taking me yet, once again, my teachers made it clear that my interests were not at all important. I was told again and again that I could do anything if I just put my mind to it, but none of my teachers ever asked– or cared what I was putting my mind to. At that point, I lost any and all interest in and patience with school. I just wanted out.

    I then turned my attention to finding the quickest and easiest way around school. I ultimately deconstructed the basic system of school and used it against itself to make that system a minimal burden on me. My work was immaculate. I took those lessons to college where they transferred seamlessly– even profitably, sometimes. But, ultimately, I had lost my curiosity and passion for learning, or rather, it had been stripped away.

    I had never understood or even noticed what had happened to me; how my interests and passions were taken from me until I began working in Education and could see the same things happening from the other side. After twenty years in Education and counting, I am still trying to make sense of it all– and still trying to recover. Because of teachers, I am trying to find the passions that I was taught to suppress and ultimately abandon. Because of teachers, my life was completely redirected, subverted, and subdued.

    The teachers who so adversely affected my life had no idea that they were systematically dismantling it. Each of them, I am certain, thought they were making me a better person and improving everything about me. They were just doing exactly what they were told to do in the only way that they knew how. They never questioned what they did or why they did it, and they certainly never fully considered what it might be doing to so many of their students. They were simply following the path given to them to perpetuate a system by teachers, for teachers, and because of teachers.

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