Back when I was in the 7th grade, I had an English teacher (we called it “English” back then, but to you younger readers that is “Language Arts”) named Ms. Miller. Ms. Miller taught the honors students and she was one of the more demanding teachers for our grade level.
This being pre-NCLB-centered education, what went on in the various classrooms was not as coordinated as it is today. Some teachers regularly covered more material than others, and the work load and expectations were certainly not standard within the school. Ms. Miller pushed her students harder than nearly any other teacher in the school and her popularity suffered as a result. As I remember, she didn’t really care – she was very confident she was doing the right thing.
For many of the honors students in her class, this was the first time we were challenged. Our “excellence” had allowed us to coast through classes with high floors for a long time, but here we were challenged. Sentences had to have context clues showing you knew the meaning of the work. Books used for book reports had to be above grade level. Spelling and handwriting had to be reflective of the bright students we were.
I hated it, and I rebelled in the most passive way possible. Nearly every day, about 10 minutes before English class, I would go to the nurse and complain of feeling “fluish”. This went on for several months. Sometimes I’d just rest in the nurses office, sometimes I’d go home. But I wasn’t going to English class.
Go me. Good job earning my first D! I really showed Ms. Miller, huh?
In hindsight, someone should have intervened. I should have been challenged by the nurse or a guidance counselor. Ms. Miller did have an “I know what you’re doing here” conversation with me once, but being enemy #1, I just dismissed what she said. But I never forgot it.
Nor, did I forget the things she taught me.
My son has never had a “Ms. Miller.” Some of his previous teachers have shown flashes of Ms. Miller’s values, but the heterogeneous grouping of students in his classes, overly generous classification of “honors students”, emphasis on high-stakes test scores, standards based reports cards, and grade-level wide uniform lesson planning have inhibited their efforts to emphasize spelling and hold high expectations.
So it has fallen to me to impart the lessons I learned (despite my best efforts to ignore them) from Ms. Miller. I stress the importance of good spelling in assignments where spelling mistakes will not be penalized. I encourage the construction of vocabulary sentences which allow the reader to discern the meaning of the word from context clues. I recommend reading accelerated reading choices which have been around since the 70s over the latest Judy Moody book. And I encourage my son to always do his best, even when a lazy effort will be considered among the top showings.
Like Ms. Miller’s lessons, these messages are not always popular with my son. And, like Ms. Miller I’m content with that. I do wish that he was hearing it in school and I could be in the role of reinforcing the ideas instead of seeming to add to the workload, but I’m confident it’s the right thing.
I never thanked Ms. Miller for what she did. I never apologized either… I was too young and immature to realize how wrong I was and how right she was. But she WAS right, and I’m happy to be in a position where I can help my son excel by sharing the things she taught me.