Read a great article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Tough Teachers Get Results." The writer, Joanne Lipman, was recounting her experience with a teacher who called his students "idiots." When he died, she writes that "40 years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country...to play a concert in his memory."
As she rightly suggests, he would never survive in the school systems we have today, which seem more concerned about whether Sally gets her feelings hurt than if Sally actually learns. Don't get me wrong, I don't advocate corporal punishment or bullying, but I do wonder about a school system that rewards children when they haven't done anything to deserve that reward. When my son was growing up and started playing sports, he began to receive "participation" trophies and, of course, the score of whatever game he was playing wasn't kept (although my son always somehow knew what the score was, even if it wasn't posted somewhere).
When I taught in university, I began to see students whose expectation was that if they attended my class, even if they did nothing, they deserved at least a C. And students regularly went to the Chair of the department in which I taught to complain about the difficulty of my classes. But I took great pride in that because my philosophy has always been that we don't succeed in anything unless we're asked to stretch beyond our comfort zones.
In elementary school, Mrs. Estvander had to be one of my favorites. She was a large woman and I mention this only because one of the punishments she would dole out would be to step on the toes of those she thought to be bullies. Another favorite was Mrs. Godwin, my sixth-grade teacher. She was great because she asked that we not accept the world at face value, but that we use our imaginations to envision a different world. My high school English teacher had to be toughest, as she had us write lengthy papers and read college-level books and short stories. She may be the reason I became an English major.
Of course, I had plenty of difficult college professors, but what's interesting is that I remember their names, but don't recall the teachers who didn't challenge me or leave an imprint of what it means to learn.
What memories do you have of "difficult" teachers and what mark did they leave on you?
1. Lipman, Joanne. "Tough Teachers get Results." The Wall Street Journal. Sept. 28-29, 2013. C1.