If we are lucky, we all have had a favorite teacher or two, someone who made a big impression on us in grade school, high school, college or somewhere on our learning journey. They are few and far between. And that says a lot about the state of education, the learning process and the rare imprint of others in our lives.
In my case, it was my high-school biology teacher, Al Glatfelter. He was a soft-spoken, bespectacled man, a younger Dustin Hoffman type in his early 40s. He had an approach to learning that I have never since experienced. He didn’t grade on the curve, so there was no competition in the classroom. There were no multiple choice questions in his tests, eliminating guess work. No true or false options with tricky-wording. He did not penalize you for not knowing something or getting it wrong. Rather he gave you one point for every correct statement you made about a plant, tree, frog, insect, biological process or habitat.
Twenty-eight points and you got a B; 35 points and you got an A. If you knew the common name of a ubiquitous, weed-like tree in Central Florida with peeling bark as pictured above, you received one point if you said, paper bark tree. If you knew the scientific name, Melaleuca lecucadendra, you would get another point. If you spelled it correctly, you received yet another point. If you knew the family genus, myrtle, bingo, you received one more point. If you knew it was native to Australia and New Caledonia, two points. If you spelled Caledonia correctly, he gave you another point. And so on.
It was a simple, but powerful way to learn: you were rewarded for everything you knew and never penalized for things you didn’t know.
To this day, long past the time that memory about biology class should endure, I can still remember much about the paper-bark trees, the variety of palm trees—and their scientific names—the various kinds of grasses and variety of citrus trees that grow in Central Florida. Useless information now, but the learning process endures.
My memory of Al as a person has faded. But he made a lasting impression on me and singularly influenced the way I worked with others over the years and the way I have mentored/taught others in turn.
Which teacher made an impression on you in school? What was it about them that you remember? Was it a style thing or something else? Why do so few teachers make an impression on their students? Do we count our blessings or demand more from our teachers? Is how we learn more important than what we learn? Certainly one is more sustainable, but which one? Did Al make the same impression on others, or was it a chemistry thing with me? What’s your experience and take on all of this?