Memoirs teaching

Out of the blue. . .

I’m minding my own business, doing my weekly grocery, etc. shopping at our hometown big box discount store.  I pass the sporting goods department where my husband is perusing hunting supplies when I meet a nice-looking man who nods and says hello.  Thinking he is more friendly than most, I nod and say hello and give my shopping cart–buggy, in these parts–a little push when he says, “You’re Mrs. Coker, aren’t you?  You don’t recognize me.”

At that moment I realize–the “Mrs. Coker” is always a dead giveaway–that he must be a former student.  I ask him his name and he proceeds to tell me how he had me as his science teacher over 30 years ago, and I was and still am one of his favorite teachers.  Wow.

My first year teaching high school yearbook.

Another affirmation of the career I left three and a half years ago, and somehow can’t seem to speak positively about.  How in the world can I not believe in my career choice when I have been so blessed to have so many former students who still insist that I was one of their favorite teachers?  And still others who chose to become teachers because of the example I set as their teacher?  What a privilege and honor it is to realize what an influential part I have played in so many lives!

I always felt I learned more from my students than they learned from me.  This day, the day I met Steve again after 30 years, I learned something else.  I learned that the career I chose is nothing to complain about, to be ashamed of, to denigrate, or to discourage young people from pursuing.  I learned again what a holy calling it was and still is.  God keeps showing me, even in retirement, how His purpose was fulfilled through my obedience to His calling to become a teacher.

Me as a tender young first-year teacher back in 1983.

So I am proud that I spent my working years as a public school teacher.  I am proud of each life I touched, and not only the ones who are easy to remember because they misbehaved or were very outspoken, but the quiet ones like Steve, who I didn’t even realize was watching me so very closely as a young teacher just starting out.  

Message left on my eraser board by my fun and crazy seniors the year I retired.

I am so grateful that he saw me and spoke to me.  What a blessing I would have missed if he hadn’t!  

How about you?  Do you remember a favorite teacher?  Waste no time in letting them know what they mean to you.



Teacher Tuesday: Once upon a time. . .

. . .a long time ago, a young woman finished college and ventured into the world of public education with a desire to change the world, one teenager at a time.  Like most college graduates, this young woman, ME, was anxious to secure a teaching job.  I was lucky that the high school who allowed me to student teach offered me a job for the next school year.  I was elated, even though I would be teaching physical science instead of the biology or English I was certified to teach.  No matter, back in 1982, schools were allowed to place teachers in subjects they were not certified in for up to two years before they had to be certified.

I was excited to have my own classroom, though I had very little to bring to it other than my planning and organizational skills. I was given a teacher’s edition textbook along with some encouragement and thrown to the wolves–in this case, about thirty 14- and 15-year-olds.  It might as well have been an enemy army.  Only thing is, they didn’t have any weapons other than their freshman silliness.

Fortunately, I had two wonderful mentors who modeled classroom discipline and building relationships with students, so it was easy for me to build a proper classroom climate and good rapport with students.  In 1982, in Texas high schools, corporal punishment was not only allowed, it was expected.  So I set my expectations and used the wooden paddle on transgressors.  

At only 5’2″ and 110 pounds, I was not very intimidating.  I will never forget the look on one young man’s face as I gave him everything I had.  The other teacher who witnessed the paddling said the boy’s eyes widened in shock and appreciation.  After that, he became my biggest ally.  Sadly, he passed away this year.  I wish I could have said goodbye.

One thing I have always demanded of my students is good classroom behavior.  I always expected my students to behave themselves and treat me and each other with respect.  These are some things I have learned in my 30-year career:

  • Students will respect you when you show them the respect you expect from them.
  • Listen to each student as if he or she is the most important one in your classroom.
  • Never belittle students.
  • The student is more important than the grade.
  • Students want to succeed.  It is up to you to find a way for that to happen.
  • It is okay to smile, laugh, and have fun.  But students must know when it is time to be serious as well.
  • Never participate in gossip about students or staff members.
  • Treat all staff and students with respect.  Be friendly to everyone.
  • Remember that you are a role model inside and outside of school. . .including restaurants, bars, and Facebook.
  • Do not expect rewards and appreciation but be pleasantly surprised when they come your way.
  • If you are not in it for the kids, then you are in it for the wrong reason.
  • Have fun!
My first year of teaching yearbook. . .