Why I Don’t Punish My Students

PunishmentPosterWriting lines, missing recess, demerits, the Principal’s Office, forced apologies. None of this stuff teaches a kid how to do right. I may be a bit late in writing this. It seems most teachers have come around to this way of thinking already, but just in case a few were missed, I’ll share my thoughts on the topic.

I don’t punish my students.

Punishment is like whacking your car, because it won’t run, or kicking the tire, because it’s flat. It does nothing to solve the problem.

More than that, though, it’s usually an attempt at control after losing one’s self in a sea of frustration.

Here’s what I mean.

You’re with your student(s), it’s been a rotten day, there are thirty things on your to-do list and no time to do them. It’s hot (cold, humid, etc.), you’re tired, and somebody does something just outrageous. I know. I’ve been there. It’s not pretty. Some of the things we say and do in this state, we’d rather forget.

Then there’s the other day. The cold day. The day of righteous indignation. You know the one. You feel like you were calm and cool in meting out just desserts for misbehavior. After all, it’s your duty as their authority figure.

Maybe you went with some kind of level system. Pulling a card, moving down your clothes pin, getting a frowny face on the behavior chart. I’m not saying any of that stuff is inherently bad, but it’s like we think if we conceal our punishing in the clothes of calculated and scientific data analysis it lets us off the hook.

There is another way.

There’s a way to get to the source of the misbehavior. There’s a way you and your student can work together in harmony. There’s a way to prevent problems in the future. It’s gonna take some emotional work, and, most importantly…

You have to see your student as your equal, even though you are his or her leader.

Yes, you have years. Yes, you have experience. Yes, you have training. That doesn’t make you better than your student. You’ve got to listen to him with total faith and confidence that his insights are valuable. It’s like that saying of Goethe’s: “Treat a man as though he is already what he should be, and he will become what he ought to be”. Your student is a future something: a president, a scientist, a parent, doctor, tax attorney, or police officer. Give him or her a chance to be on your team, and win together!

Something we believe in my church is that we lived for time immemorial before we had physical bodies and were born into the world. During that time we did stuff, learned things, and had experiences. The essence of who we were during that time, even though we can’t remember it, is still with us, and comes through in spite of all kinds of adverse conditions: poverty, disability, abuse, addiction, illness, etc.

When I remember that my students (and I) have this glorious background, it’s easier for me to believe in their potential to help solve problems. I can visualize them drawing from that source of power that’s still in them, even though they can’t remember how they got it.

I’m less inclined to find fault with their misbehavior when I think of them as eternal beings of great worth and with a divine mission.

I’m less inclined to have a patronizing attitude toward them, or to dismiss their ideas and feelings.

What I’m saying is that it’s easier for me to have compassion, when I think of my students this way. Then, when it comes time for discipline, I can really hear them when they’re trying to tell me what the problem is, and how to fix it.

Seek to understand, then work together to solve problems.

And, for heaven’s sake, exercise some humility! If you go into the problem-solving situation with discipline as your goal, and you think you have all the answers, your student will write you off as just another adult who thinks kids are a problem to be fixed rather than partners in finding solutions.

Too often, a punishment seeks to stop a behavior in its tracks rather than working out a solution to really prevent it in the future. If that’s really all you want, read no further. If you want more and better for you and your students, read on.

Think of it this way. If your best friend came into your classroom and accidentally knocked over a shelf full of picture books during silent reading time, how would you react?

Now, what if a student did it?

There shouldn’t be a difference in the regard we have for students and other categories of people. They may be young and inexperienced, but they are still people. If you have trouble with that concept, check out this sweet TED Talk on ageism.

Here’s what that problem solving might look like:

Broken iPad:

Me: “I see there’s a broken iPad here.”

Carrie: “Yeah! Natalie pushed me, and my elbow knocked it off the table!”

Me: “I see.”

Carrie(s): “I know I should have pushed it more away from the edge, but I forgot. She pushed me!”

Natalie: “It was an accident!”

Me: “Oh.”

Student(s): “Yeah.”

Me: “This iPad needs to be repaired or replaced.”

Student(s): “We don’t have any money.”

Me: “Hm, we have a problem. iPad repairs cost money, but we don’t have any right now.”

Students come up with shockingly awesome solution.

I’ve dealt with an almost identical situation with real students, and, I kid you not, that’s what happened. They came up with an excellent solution all by themselves. Do you think they were more careful with iPads after the experience?

You bet.

Also, after that, they turned into problem-solving machines. Just pumping out solutions all over the place. A group of kids who could barely stand each other, at first, have become really close and very collaborative.

No punishment necessary.

I could have made them write lines, forced them to apologize to me or each other, or taken away gaming privileges. None of those would’ve taught accountability and problem-solving, though, which is ultimately what we want. That’s the thing about punishment. It always misses the target. If you need proof of that, just check out the recidivism rates in our country’s prisons.

What to do instead.

The real Yodas of the alternative approach are Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, who, you know by now, are my heroes. Also on the list of punishment-alternative experts are Jesus Christ, Viktor Frankl, and this guy, with whom I got to spend a week a few summers ago (he’s hilarious, by the way) during which time he told me about how he forgave the men who cut off his hands during the Rwandan genocide.

I know it’s hard to change, but I promise you this: learning how to problem-solve instead of punish, will only take you a couple of tries before you’re hooked. It helped me to believe again in the power we humans have to create peace together. It starts with baby steps between students and teachers, and can spread to entire nations. Just give it a shot!

Apply these principles:

-Just describe the problem without passing judgment or evaluating (name-calling) the students’ character.

-Reflect, restate, and clarify their position. Student: “I hate you, Mrs. Heaton”! Me: “Oh. I hear you’re not liking me right now”.

-Keep it simple. One- to two-word maximum responses. “Oh.” “I see.” “Mm.”, or just a nod will suffice.

-Solicit suggestions for solutions. “Hm, I’m not sure what to do. We have xyz problem, got any ideas?”

-Accept any and all serious suggestions, then be honest about which ones you can or can’t live with.

A word on the big things.

This post, indeed the blog setting, is probably grossly insufficient to really get to the heart of punishment in the context of really really bad things, i.e. rape, murder, abuse and neglect. If you need more help with that, I highly recommend the book The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. Sometimes, in dire circumstances, a person will hurt others in spite of all attempts to reconcile, and then there’s a way to stop them that won’t cripple you emotionally. More on that in a later post.

For now, I’m anxious to hear how the application of punishment alternatives have worked with your students. Please message me or comment below and let me know how it’s going.


Part 3 of Memorable Teachers Series: Dumbledore

DumbledoreBannerLest I be scorned for what may be a misguided and adolescent love affair with the Harry Potter series, hold up. This is purely academic. I don’t even own any Potter paraphernalia. Okay one poster…and a board game, and I dressed up for the Deathly Hallows premiere with my friend Kristina, but it was more out of intellectual irony (we were college students surrounded by 12-year-olds).

I do maintain, though, that J.K. is a genius. She swept the world with her fantasy creation in a way normally reserved for religious revivals and plagues.

I don’t think it’s because we love Harry, Ron, and Hermione so much, though. We do love them, but that’s not what made the story such a sensation. It’s probably not because we long for a world of adventure and magic, so different from our own. If that were the only reason, the series probably would have been only as successful as other fantasy fiction of the TOR variety.

No. Harry Potter endures, and captures a massive audience, because of its setting.

A school.

The series begins with a heavy emphasis on the young and their high-jinks, but ends having taught us something about life, wisdom, and love from important mentors. I would argue that it’s the relationships between the students and their mentors that brings the richest enjoyment from the series.

Am I going to put it on the level of Jane Eyre and The Secret Garden? Probably not. It’s a different creature. Its seven installments smack of a tendency toward episodic and consumptive preferences. However, if that’s the only way Rowling could get her story out into the world, I’m okay with it. I certainly wasn’t complaining as a 14-year-old in line at Barnes & Noble until 2:00 in the morning waiting for my next copy. Would I put it up there with The Chronicles of Narnia or Sherlock Holmes or P.G. Wodehouse? Yeah, I’ll stick to that.*

Anyway, back to the school thing. Hogwarts seems to be intended as a school experience any of us may have had, you know…minus the magic: bullies, first love, hated subjects, favorite teachers, pranks, homework, acne, growth spurts, moodiness, indignation toward adults, cliques, best friends, and worst enemies. In this everyman’s (sort of) school experience we meet Dumbledore, the Principal we wish we’d had.

I admit it. Dumbledore is one of my all-time favorite teachers, fiction status notwithstanding. He’s so real to me I wonder if J.K. Rowling knew somebody like him on whom she based his character. I bet she did.

This is why I chose him for my roster of memorable teachers:

1) Dumbledore has a sense of humor.

Dumbledore was always getting disapproving glares from other adults because he readily saw to the heart of a humorous situation. I appreciate an adult who, regardless of age, position or status, will still share a laugh with Fred and George. In book four, when the twins cross Dumbledore’s age line receiving long, white beards as their punishment, does Dumbledore get mad?

No way!

Think of the ridiculous consequence he created for breaking the rule by crossing. Growing long white beards?! Hilarious. That’s the mark of a teacher who still appreciates a good joke and wants to help his students remember that while cheating is a serious sin, he loves you still, and thinks of you as worth a second chance.

When I’m subbing is when it’s most difficult to know whether to laugh and or give the stoneface. I confess that fart jokes are still funny to me, but do I lend approval to such behavior by laughing along? Mayhem. It’s a fine line to walk, and I think Dumbledore, with his many years of experience and wisdom, dances along that razor’s edge. I want to be like that someday.

Recently, I subbed a high school graphic design class and heard the telltale sign of work not getting done: internet fart simulation. The trick is to not pass moral judgments on students — dismiss them as clowns, flirts, and airheads — just because they enjoy a good joke. Dumbledore never did that to Fred and George. To whom do you think Fred and George were most loyal and well-behaved?

So, then, what was I to do? Well, I took a marker and wrote on the whiteboard, in curly cursive, the following ditty:

“Your flatulence is funny, but your silence is sweeter.”

After a few titters, the noise returned to a dull roar and there were no more gases passed. Bam!

2) Dumbledore is a Socratic method champ.

He doesn’t just hand out answers to questions like candy (though he does hand out candy). Rather, he takes seriously his part in helping a student build his own problem solving strategies. When Harry wanted to spend his every evening sitting in front of the Mirror of Erised, Dumbledore didn’t ban him from the room, or give him detention for sneaking out at night. He also didn’t delve too much into the subject of magical mirrors. Dumbledore was always sort of vague in describing magical things to Harry, and never once helped him cheat.

He had total faith and confidence in Harry’s ability to solve his own problems, and only ever gave gentle nudges and reaffirming assurances. How empowering for a student. How satisfying for a teacher. I love it when a student makes that leap of thought to the answer all on his or her own. That’s the icing on the pumpkin pasty.

I mentor a young woman, we’ll call her ‘C’, and we conduct our sessions through snowboarding. Last Wednesday she had a breakthrough and was able to make smooth transitions from heel side to toe side. As the day wore on she became progressively more graceful at it. I can’t take credit for her newfound ability, because it was in her all along. When she asked for guidance on how to improve, I only gave a minimum of advice. My job was just to still be her friend after she fell the first few 100 times.

With snowboarding, as in many other things, no one can do the work for you. You can know all the tips and tricks, but eventually you just have to put in what my husband calls “hours behind the wheel”.

I’ll still be there for her with a tip here and there.

The thing is, though, snowboarding isn’t really what I want her to know. If she becomes a pro at it, awesome, but my main concern is that she learns how to stick out the tedium of the process in order to reach the fruit of mastery. I live for the day when she’s the one waiting for me at the bottom of the lift; when she pays it forward and teaches someone else how to do it.

3) Dumbledore believes in repentance.

Snape, Mundungus Fletcher, Regulus, Ron. All examples of individuals in whom Dumbledore had faith. He knew they were basically good. He knew they were capable of making the right choice, even after making so many wrong choices.

Dumbledore never grew to hate or despise any of the people who messed up. He always retained a love for them that didn’t hinge on whether they made mistakes.

It can be hard not to take an affront personally, especially from your student. In book six, when Draco was faced with the choice to kill Dumbledore, or be killed, Dumbledore manages to find compassion instead of offense. He was sorry for Draco, not angry at him. He knew how quickly things escalated out of hand in Draco’s life. He still had hope for Draco, and rightly believed in Draco’s desire to make the right choice. He was sincere in his welcoming back of this very distressed youth. That blows my mind!

Now, the word count of this post is telling me that I’ve waxed loquacious yet again. So, let’s recap and wrap it up.

Dumbledore had a sense of humor, believed his students were smart, and that they could makes things right again after screwing up. He’s a memorable teacher to me. I wish all teachers were like Dumbledore, myself included. And by that, of course, I mean all teachers should wear flowing purple robes with spangles on them, and a pair of half-moon spectacles:)

What do you think of Dumbledore as a teacher? Don’t be shy. Maybe you think he was too irreverent, or frustratingly vague. This is a safe place to let your nerd/anti-nerd out.

*It’s most often compared to the works of Roald Dahl.


Why Dyslexia scared me, and how I got over my fear.

A while back, a dear friend of mine said “Hey! You’re a tutor. I know a gal who runs a business tutoring dyslexic kids. That would be right up your alley.”

My immediate reaction was surprise. Not only do I have no special education experience, but I’d only been tutoring for three months. How was I supposed to help a kid with Dyslexia?

Then, my follow-up reaction was fear.

What I knew of dyslexia was a murky mix of hearsay and anecdotes about brilliant college dropouts. I’d known people throughout my life who had trouble reading, but being an excellent and intuitive reader myself, I found their struggle incomprehensible. I figured, if you put in the practice, you’d become a good reader, no problem.

In other words, I basically didn’t know anything about Dyslexia. At all.

Part of me didn’t want to know. I was between a fear of the unknown and afraid that once I did know, I’d be powerless to do anything about it.

Well, the financial beast reared its head, and I needed more income. So, I took a leap of faith and applied for the job. My fears were almost immediately laid to rest. I was given a very broad but satisfying training and receive lots of ongoing support.

I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned and explain how it’s dispelled my fears.

1) People with Dyslexia CAN and DO learn to read…eventually.

One way or another most dyslexic people will receive remediation or they’ll remediate themselves. That is to say, they will find ways to read when they absolutely have to, and can become highly accurate, if slow, readers. I’ve talked to many dyslexic men and women who came up with all kinds of coping strategies, such as: counting the number of people ahead of them in the class reading group then counting down to the paragraph he/she is expected to read and prereading it several times before it gets to his/her turn. Others listened to audiobooks while reading along, memorizing a very specific vocabulary, such as for their particular job or interest. I know one dyslexic, in particular, who has trouble pronouncing and remembering the simplest of street names, but knows the names of hundreds of car parts, makes, models, and years.

It can be a long, hard slog, but it reading can happen for people who have it. I see it happening before my very eyes with my students. It’s incredible.

2) Dyslexia is a thing.

It’s not laziness and it’s not lack of motivation or effort. Dyslexia arises from a difference in brain wiring that disrupts the gradual processing of words from manual decoding to automatic recognition. For them, without specialized training, the process never becomes automatic. Awesome! I can totally let go of all that anger and frustration I had toward kids who didn’t understand after I’d tried so hard to teach them. It wasn’t because they were spiting me. It was because I wasn’t teaching them in the way that they learn. Guess what? I can change the way I teach:) That means there’s hope!

3) You don’t have to lower the standard for a person who has Dyslexia.

Based on my denial of No. 2 above, I figured people with Dyslexia were really just lazy and didn’t want to put in the effort to learn. They just wanted a pass for underachieving. Do I sound like a bigoted jerk yet? Trust me. I’m repenting. The total opposite is true. People with Dyslexia often have high IQs, and represent some of the hardest-working people I know. They offer a vital contribution to any kind of big picture problem. The people I know who have Dyslexia are invariably quick to the solution of complex problems involving many players. It might just be me, but I also kinda think they’re more fun to be around. I think I’ll do an informal study on that at some point.

4) The real mark of education and success is how well you live in the world and make it a better place.

That typically has absolutely nothing to do with how well you read and write. In other words, I don’t feel hopeless anymore about how many people have Dyslexia — estimates place the number at 1-in-5 Americans. There are people with Dyslexia in every field of work, and, just like the rest of us, their performance is all over the spectrum. Maybe they don’t read well or fluently, but I bet a lot of the rest of us get so stuck in the details of a problem that we never get to a solution. If you think about it, that’s a kind of disability, too. I’m relieved and glad that there are so many people out there who are naturally excellent problem solvers. When they build on that talent, boy do they achieve wonders.

5) Dyslexia is a bonified disability, though.

By that I mean that it can profoundly disrupt normal, everyday existence. Consider this. You wake up tomorrow morning and inexplicably cannot quickly decode words any longer. Reading the instructions on the back of the prescription bottle is suddenly a gargantuan task. So many medical terms! The waitress at your favorite restaurant hands you a menu and the letters may as well be swimming across the page, so you just say “I’ll have what he’s having.” even though  you hate what he’s having! Better a gross burger than the embarrassment of taking all day to read the menu. You get to work and have to face the Internet. Oh, the Internet. If not for YouTube it may as well be a useless rabbit warren of text starting with the keyboard. Need to turn in a resume? Nightmare. You can never be quite sure if you got all the spellings right. Don’t even get me started on punctuation. I hope the boss can see through it to my sparkling personality and high skills. College entrance exams are the worst. They’re timed. Yeah. Disability. Here, I just want to make it clear that, in a literate society (which we have), people with Dyslexia are entitled to accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

6) Dyslexia isn’t a childhood problem that you grow out of.

IMG_1197Dyslexia ranges from mild to profound, but if you have it, you have it for life. Like I said earlier, many adults with Dyslexia have found ways to remediate themselves, and can become highly accurate readers. The problem is, they usually remain slow readers, and take twice as long, if not longer, to read as other adults. That means for every hour you spend at your job reading, your dyslexic counterpart spends two. Over a lifetime, that’s a lot of lost time. Beyond that, Dyslexia isn’t who you are. It’s just something that you have. It’s not a disease, but it is highly heritable. A person with Dyslexia has a high probability of passing it on to his or her children. So, does that mean people with Dyslexia shouldn’t have kids? I surely hope no dyslexic person ever thinks that or has it preached to him. My students have such full, amazing lives, Dyslexia notwithstanding. I know terrific parents who have Dyslexia. Their kids are lucky to have them.

I’ll add more posts on this later. For now, though, I’ll just put it out there that learning about Dyslexia humbled me deeply. I had a lot of erroneous notions about how learning works, when it happens, and for whom. Some of those I held long and passionately. That was part of my fear, letting go. The funny thing is, I feel very free as I’ve let those notions go. I feel a deep compassion for the kids I tutor, and for the adults that have always been around me without my knowledge. Dyslexia has made their lives really really hard, though they’d never admit it because they’re usually hard-working and humble. I have so much admiration and respect for them, because they do what the rest of us do, except it’s so much more difficult for them. In fact, I have been gently mentored and provided so much warmth and love during my tough times by people with Dyslexia I feel like I just need to shut up and quit complaining about the little things that bug me in life. I should be the one offering them solace given how difficult “simple” tasks are for them. It must be a dyslexic thing. Maybe they just understand pain better than other people because they’re so closely-acquainted with it from being unable to read well in our literate society. It seems to make them especially good at recognizing pain in others and offering the balm of friendship and support. Maybe I’m going too far now and applying labels too generally, but my experience really has been that people with Dyslexia tend to be very warm and caring. They’re emotionally literate.



When the Work Is Hard: How to Turn a Frustrated Student into a Hard-working Hero


In an earlier post, I outlined my mission as a mentor. Part of it is to speak to the hero in my students.

This is how that looks in real life.

I’ll apply it to something kids say that makes teachers’ skin crawl: “This is too hard!”

My tired responses to this used to be to deny it: “No, it’s not.”, or “You just think it’s hard because you’ve never done it before. Really, though, it’s the simplest thing in the world”.

Both responses are problematic. Each is demeaning and implies the child is a liar or stupid. “But what else can I say?! If I admit that it’s hard then I’ve failed as a teacher!”, “I was supposed to make this plain and simple, but he’s still not getting it!”, “Kids are really suggestible. Isn’t it unethical to put the idea that something is hard into their heads?”

I know what you’re thinking, but let me show you a scenario that I deal with all the time, and then we’ll plumb the depths of your concerns.

Child: “This is too hard! I will never get this!”

Me: “Yeah, this is tough. You’re really close. Maybe you want to try again?”

Child: “Ugh! Okay. puh-luh-an. Plan! I did it!”

Me: “You did it! Even though it was hard, you did it!”

Sound like wishful thinking? I do this DAILY with my students, many of whom have disabilities. I get results. This, my friends, is speaking to the hero in a child.

The child who is spoken to as if he/she were Peter Parker or Harry Potter or Lucy Pevensie begins to build up a bank account of memories in which he or she did something really difficult in spite of the challenges. These memories come in handy when the child again faces the grindstone, academic or otherwise. It also makes it easier for the child to be forgiving of him or herself when the results of his efforts are less than perfect. Given his record of success, the present setback is probably temporary.

Now, let’s unpack an uncomfortable internal experience we have, as teachers, when a kid thinks something is hard.

1) We’re afraid that we’ve failed.

We give credence to that dirty liar inside of us that tells us we’re not good enough.

It’s okay to let the experience of the child make you question your approach to teaching. Sincere pondering over how to improve preserves your integrity for the parts of the teaching relationship you are accountable for. This is not a pass for using methods, styles, or programs that are found to be ineffective. 

BUT! Mentorship is not just about making things easy.

When we internalize their frustration as our failure, we eventually seek relief from our sense of failure by placing it back on the child. That’s how the demeaning rebuttals seep into the dialogue with our students. We have to deny that the work is hard in order to preserve our desperate need to be right about our own goodness/rightness. If the kid is right and the work is hard then we’re a waste of space. Or so we let ourselves think. More on that in an upcoming post.

This is where speaking to the hero in the child is so helpful. Your student is incredibly sensitive to whether or not you believe he is essentially good and capable, and he can tell when you have total compassion for him. You demonstrate this compassion by, first, listening to what he or she is saying, and then acknowledging that, to him or her, the difficulty is real.

Let your students know they can try again, as many times as they need. Relax, let them know there’s no rush.

This concept of making hard work acceptable matters, because, try as we might, we will never be perfect teachers. There’s no perfect curriculum, or time of day, or perfect kid, or style with which to teach. I don’t care who you are: Waldorf, Montessori, Public, Private, Charter, Challenger, homeschool, unschool, whatever. All have strengths and weaknesses. The most transferable and empowering thing you can do is to really listen when the kid says the work is hard. Let her know it’s okay for it to be hard. Give it a shot anyway! Amaze yourself!

In essence, you practice what you preach by showing up as a teacher, acknowledging that you won’t be able to make everything easy for everyone, but trying really hard anyway. Model this grace for yourself, and your students will learn to have grace for themselves, too.

2) We’re afraid that we’re committing the unpardonable sin of suggestion.

Remember the child psychologist from Law & Order? He was always warning the detectives against abusing the highly-suggestible child. He’s right, of course. You should never ask leading questions of a vulnerable person, or fill someone’s mouth with words.

We are deathly afraid of the “h” word (hard), and avoid saying it for fear of giving validation or justification for quitting. We want our students to love math and to love reading and to love history. “Won’t saying it’s hard make it hard”?


But there is a very subtle and massively important difference between suggestion and reflection. If you March into the room and declare that what we’re learning today is hard, you may unfairly prejudice your students against the task. However, patiently working with a child and echoing her feelings when she expresses that something is difficult for her, helps her process from frustration to understanding rather than halting at the emotional push back from a teacher who just says “No.It’s not hard.”

Now, let’s recap what acknowledging the difficulty of a task IS and IS NOT.

What acknowledgment of difficulty IS NOT:

1) An excuse for the child to quit:

On the contrary, acknowledging that something is difficult for a student is simply accepting the reality of the situation for that child. It does NOT mean they give up. If necessary, be explicit in your expectation that hard things be done in spite of their difficulty. In most cases, they will take your belief in them as implicit. You didn’t deny their sense that the work is hard and you show confidence in their ability to do the hard thing. Of course they’ll keep trying when you show so much faith in them!

2) Proof you are a bad teacher:

I’m pretty sure Jesus is still a good teacher even though Peter messed up. He figured it out eventually, and he loved Jesus for continuing to work with him even after he made a mistake.

3) Approval of whining and bad behavior:

If your student is cussing, hurting someone, destroying property, or being generally unpleasant, your acknowledgment of the difficulty of the task is not approval of this mayhem. Be firm in stating your boundaries in regard to how frustration over a difficult task is expressed, but DO NOT demean or punish for having frustration.

What acknowledgment of difficulty IS:

1) A gateway to problem solving:

Your acknowledgement of the difficulty of the task leaves room for the child to tell you why it’s difficult. This is a boon to the teacher! Instant feedback on how we can improve! Denying the difficulty, on the other hand, shuts the child down. This creates distrust and no real solutions come out of distrust.

2) An invitation to reflection:

Ask yourself, “What can I do to ease some of the burden, but keep my and my student’s integrity intact?”, “Is this task worthy of the effort I’m asking of my student/expecting my student to ask of himself? If not, what can I replace it with that will be more valuable and meaningful to him?”

3) An opportunity to grow:

Acknowledging that something is hard to do, makes the completion of that thing all the sweeter. You get to be the lucky person in the child’s life that teaches him or her the awesome experience it is to finish something that wasn’t easy.

4) A strategy for dealing with frustration:

Think of how you feel when you’re frustrated by something. Wouldn’t you appreciate it if someone would just commiserate without judgment until the frustration peters out? By acknowledging, without judgment of his character, that something is difficult for your student, you help him build a little homunculus for himself. This guy is his cheerleader, his commiserator, the guy that says “I hear you, man. I have total faith in you”. It’s like, now that we’ve established that the task is hard, we can move on to seeking a solution. That’s a good strategy.

A note on disabilities:

Though I am currently developing programs for unimpaired students, my main gig is working with children who have disabilities.

I have a number of relatives with varying disabilities from mental illness to loss of limbs. I am closely acquainted with the pain these disabilities can cause as well as the pain caused by others who simply don’t understand, saying things like “Snap out of it!”, 0r “Just try harder”! That’s why I mentioned compassion earlier.

Not pity.

Not callousness either.

Compassion. Let your compassion inspire you to educate yourself about the nature of your student’s disability, and remember that while she has a disability, she’s also a person. One way you help your student and yourself remember this important fact, is by speaking to her as if she is as important as you are, as if her experience is just as real and valid as yours, and that it’s okay for things to be hard. Continue to have faith and confidence in her Abilities while keeping tabs on the difficulties presented by her disabilities. Remember, a child with a disability can do hard things, too.


The Mission of the Transient Tutor is to provide…

Mission Statement

I wanted to form a mission statement for my tutoring and mentoring. I didn’t really know where to begin, because I’ve never created a mission statement before, so I did what every good American does, and googled it. A few I found are the following:

“Proclaim the Gospel, Perfect the Saints, Redeem the Dead” by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“…to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life” by Brigham Young University

“Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet” by Whole Foods

“To be the leader in wilderness education that serves people and the environment” by NOLS

The four pillars of Outward Bound: “Self-Reliance, Physical Fitness, Craftsmanship, but above all, Compassion”.

Wow! My eyes were shining. The idealist in my heart burned with resolution. What lofty aspirations!

But they weren’t my aspirations, so I played how-are-these-alike, and discovered that all good mission statements share a few common elements.

No. 1 A good mission statement is short and to the point.

Dang. I’ve never been good at short and to-the-point. I tend to wander in tangential trails. But I’ll work on that. So, what now?

No. 2 A good mission statement reflects the strengths of the organization.

Cool. I think I know what I’m good at. Listening seems to be my strong suit, so I thought I’d better include that in my mission statement. I’m also pretty good at organizing ideas into coherent sentences that other people can understand. So, speaking (communicating in general) makes the list, too. But people want to know how I do these things.

No. 3 A good mission statement gives a sense of what sets the organization apart, makes it unique, and specifies the way they do things.

I mean, I could listen and communicate, and still be a big jerk, right? So, how do I reassure my students and their families that coming to me for mentoring is a good thing? Time to throw in some adjectives and/or prepositional phrases. I went with compassion, because I want to promote an it’s-okay-to-be-yourself-and-talk-about-anything-on-your-mind vibe. I feel a good mentor not only listens, but has real respect for the student’s ideas, feelings, desires, and goals. That taking-the-student-seriously-ness seems like compassion to me, because compassion really means esteeming the other person as much, if not more, than yourself. However, that only tells half the story. I’m not just a diary for people to pour their hearts into. I also want to impart guidance, recommend reading, and inspire.

No. 4 A great mission statement leaves no doubt as to why the organization is doing what it does in the way that it does it.

This is the part where the most exciting thing happened for me. If I am listening compassionately to the students as if their ideas were as real and important to me as my own, we might then be able to have a discussion as equals. Then what would I say to them? What could I possibly tell them that really mattered/impacted their lives for good/helped them grow as learners and humans, etc? So, I had to delve a little deeper into my personal philosophy of teaching. It’s a philosophy in process. It’s still flexing and changing. What I currently believe was arrived at after years of pondering the topic. I expect by the time I die it will have morphed dramatically, and it could even be 360 degrees different tomorrow, but all I really have to go on is now.

So, what I basically believe is this. We are all free moral agents in a world that presents infinite possibilities and choices. Many lead to evil and many lead to good. In other words, there is a villain and there is a hero inside each of us. The villain usually chooses evil and the hero usually chooses good. Whichever is spoken to the most affirmatively, will eventually take the lead role. What I mean by that is that when we listen to/speak to a person as if she is already a villain, it affirms the reality of the villain within her (and within us). It teaches her the language of a villain so that her inner voice itself even speaks to the villainous part of her.

Now, I reject the possibility that this dooms her to be a villain forever. No, no, I believe that by beginning to speak to the hero in her, she may yet save the day. I believe the hero in us never truly dies, but can be beaten to a bloody pulp by the villain and go dormant for long periods of time. The hero never really goes away, though. He or she is always there in the background waiting for a chance to prove him or herself.

So, I feel my calling as a teacher/tutor/mentor, whatever you want to call it, is to speak to the hero in every child. The hero is already in there, is already capable of arriving at solutions on his own, is already a sentient and conscious being with thoughts and feelings and ideas. There’s not really anything I can put into him to change him. The changes will always come from the hero himself. However, a hero is usually accompanied by a mentor of some kind: wise relatives like Uncle Ben and Aunt May, or an inspiring teacher like Professor Dumbledore. These people never entertained, even for a second, the possibility that their Peter Parkers or Harry Potters were villains, and certainly never treated them as if they were. They might have, for both stories certainly show that each hero had dark moments in which they doubted their ability to be good. But their mentors invited the heroes to the conversation, and gave them space to solve their own problems while also setting an inspiring example themselves.

This is ultimately what I want to do for my students. I want to listen to everything in them, good and bad, and coach them through the times of doubt when evil might win. I want to cheer them on and believe in them as they wrestle with life’s choices.

Too many students come away from the learning experience feeling beaten, rejected, and stepped on. We speak to them as if they were clumsy, childish, untrustworthy, incapable, an annoyance, aggravations, basically wrong and in need of correction by the morally-superior and experienced adults. Is it any wonder they begin to bow to the villain within them? Considering the verbal darts thrown at them all day, I’m not surprised. How often do we hear teachers calling names (lazy, disrespectful, irresponsible), using sarcasm (So you want to be an architect? Well, judging by your math test that’ll go over just great.), using punitive and embarrassing methods of correction (You didn’t finish your homework? Well, then you can just stay in for recess until you learn how to work harder)? How often do we hear statements like “Oh, you don’t really mean that.” suggesting to the student that she doesn’t really know herself, that the adults know better, and just to reject her feelings until they go underground and start manifesting in unpleasant behaviors. When you hear yourself described, and spoken to, in this way, you eventually start to believe it’s true, and a kid will act the part every time.

I know what some of you are thinking. “Well, she’s never had kids of her own.”, “Just let her try and see for herself when she’s a real teacher.” Yeah, ‘kay. That’s great, but I don’t have to have kids to know what it feels like to be one, and I don’t have to be a teacher in order to know what it felt like to be a student. 

That’s the key here. I remember when teachers got it right and how that made me feel, but I also remember the times teachers got it wrong, and those scars can last a lifetime. Making the feelings, ideas, and inner realities of my students as real as my own, and just as important, is what makes learning possible. Yes, the teacher may have more years and experience, but until the more experienced one allows space for the other to be heard, and speaks to that person as if they are capable of achieving years and experience, no amount of experience will help. It’s like knowing the phone number, but having no cell service. Until you hook up the line, they can’t hear you. You’d be more successful trying to eat the Great Wall of China. As Dave Ramsey says, “You can’t smack somebody in the back of the head until after you’ve got your arm around their shoulders”.

So, that, in a nutshell, is my teaching philosophy, and the final portion of my mission statement. Getting it all into one sentence seemed impossible, but I think I did alright. Today, I’m off to tutor some very nice people. They’re eight-years-old. I’ll let you know how it goes as I aim to practice what I preach.


Peaches and apples and plums! Oh my!

I took a break from teachery things this morning and made jam. Because sometimes in life you just need to make jam. I can think of no other domestic activity that puts me in quite the same Cleaver Family mood. Granted, I wore jeans and a t-shirt rather than my Donna Reid outfit. I was barefoot, though, so people who were southern Judges in 1940 would’ve approved. All the same, makin’ jam just puts me in that seasonal/harvestal/homemaking mood.

But don’t let that fool ya. While I was making jam I was thinking, not about jam, but about teaching and leadership. I was actually thinking about these books I’m reading.

Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris, Entreleleaderahip by Dave Ramsey, and How To Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

While I was blanching the peaches and plums I was thinking about mentoring kids and how to be better at it.



As I peeled them I decided I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I probably ought to start writing down what I learned from them.



And as I mashed up the fruit flesh I started to get thirsty, so I took a break and had some peach juice


Ah, the calories helped me push through to sterilizing the lids and jars, boiling down the fruit, and adding the sugar and pectin. At that point I’d begun wondering how my mistakes and what I’ve learned from them could bless the lives of my students.



IMG_1294.JPGMy thoughts jumped around at this point, because I got distracted by my dad who came into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal, but I persevered, and concluded that great teachers are great because they learn from their mistakes and strive for personal integrity. That’s why kids like them. Then I removed the fruit/syrup mixture from the heat and started spooning it into jars with the aid of my handy funnel.


Well, I want to be a great teacher, and I’m not one yet, so I thought that maybe there were some areas of my life I haven’t been living with integrity and that’s what was inhibiting my growth to greatness.



Once I got the jars full and the lids/rings on it was time to move them into the boiling water bath. But then I recalled that I don’t have a rack that fits in the bottom of my pot, so I had to improvise with jar rings and cheese graters.


It totally worked. And after twenty minutes of processing, the jam emerged by way of a trusty jar grabber thing. Pictured on the right.


At this point, three and a half hours had gone by. I know, right? Three and a half hours for only five jars of jam?! Yeah. It took me FOUR hours to get a gallon of cider the other night.


But here’s the thing. Building personal integrity, like canning, takes time and hard work. It would be easier to slack off in areas of personal integrity. Lie a little. Steal a little. Take advantage of my neighbor. And sometimes it’s just more practical to buy jam at the supermarket. But oh how different life tastes when you’ve got homemade jam, and good relationships built on trust. The hard work is so worth the result.

So, on this beautiful autumnal Saturday, I’m resolving to build my personal integrity, and maybe to make applesauce. I’m hopeful that, with time I can have both.


What’s In a Name?

Today’s teacher tip (or how-to-make-kids-like-you-so-they-will-actually-listen-when-you-teach) is REMEMBER NAMES.



So you’re despairing, because you think you’re “bad with names”? Well, despair no more, my friends, because I’ve got six foolproof tricks to help you be more intentional in making a name stick to a face, every time. Say goodbye to the days of embarrassing brain blocks and crestfallen kids who realize you forgot their name. Happily, remembering names is also one of Dale Carnegie’s tools for winning friends and influencing people, which is essentially what you’re trying to do as a teacher.

1. Repeat the name to yourself over and over in your mind while holding an image of their face in your mind’s eye.

2. Find a catchy word that rhymes with their name and/or relates somehow to the student.
For example, I really like the banana-bana-fo-fana method. Some names that can be tricky are those that begin with the letter X. But when repeated as Xander-bander-fo-fander-fee-fie-fo-mander…XANDER it’s rendered completely memorable. Bam!

3. Find out how it’s spelled
This is particularly helpful with names from other countries besides the one you’re from. An Indian name, for example, is Aditya. You may feel overwhelmed by strange vowels clipped together with hard consonants, but when spelled you can suddenly find all the sounds. This method of remembering names became infinitely more helpful to me after I started learning another language and had to get acquainted with the IPA phonetic alphabet symbols.

4. Try to establish three things to hang the name on
What I mean by that is this: determine three things about the student that stick out at you, that you know you’ll remember, and that your brain already has a pathway to.
Suppose you are chatting with Cassie, and you happen to really enjoy HoHos. Then you notice one poking out of Cassie’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox, and you love the ninja turtles! That’s two. Now you need a third thing, and happily, Cassie wears red sneakers: red is your favorite color. Now when you think of HoHos, TMNT, and the color red, Cassie’s name is also hanging there in your language locker, ready for deployment.

5. Quit being a name snob
I don’t care if you think names ending in -qua or -dra like Shaniqua and Rashandra are ghetto, or that names that switch out “e”s and “a”s for “y”s like Bostyn and Haydyn are vain and trendy, or even if you think names like Banjo and Radioscience are ridiculous, or that Britney and David are overused.

Here’s the thing. Names are like seasons and tides. They come in waves and cycles, and guess what. Once upon a time, there was a day when your name was considered ghetto, vain, overused, or ridiculous. So let’s not tear down Rashandra and Banjo. One of them could be the President someday, or a great musician, or an astronaut, and then their names will go down in history. Treat their name with respect and dignity now, and they’ll thank you for it big time later.

6. Tell yourself you’re good at remembering names, and then cling to the memory of the happy face of the person whose name you remembered. It’s the simplest way to make someone’s day.

Friends, I hear people say “I’m bad with names” all the time. I’ve got bad and good news for those people. The bad news is you’re bad with names, because you keep telling yourself you’re bad with names. The good news is you can start telling yourself you’re good with names.

Start today.

You can be good with names. You really can, but it takes hard mental work and practice. The sooner you get started the sooner you’ll see the results. You can go from total brain fart to everyone’s favorite person, because you put in the effort and intention to make their names stick.

Got anymore suggestions on how to help make a name stick to a face? Post them in the comments so we can all up our name game!


Part 2 of Memorable Teachers Series: Anna Leonowens

This week, we explore another character of both fact and fiction. Just like Fräulein Maria, Anna Leonowens, as portrayed in films such as The King and I, was a real person and did many of the things her fictionalized character did.  I like to focus on the dramatic version, because it’s often in fiction that we find the most satisfying nuggets of truth. It’s also the Ma’am Leonowens of fiction that has enchanted me since I was ten and first watched the musical version.  It was probably the hoop skirts and vague love story that did it, but now I love her because of her teaching philosophy.  She handled a number of potentially-explosive mentoring problems in a way that I admire.  Here is one of my favorites.

Getting Past the Categories

In the Jodie Foster version of Anna Leonowens’ experience in Siam, the first day of class is marred by a scrap between the King’s son and Anna’s son.  The equal application of the punishment given (writing lines), shows that she was seeing Chulalongkorn as a person, not as his race, station, or nationality. She was seeing a person who broke a rule.  Period.   This seeing people (yes, kids are people too), as people is a key to being a good mentor.  It shows the student that you can be trusted with his or her true self.  Seeing the human in your students, the thing in each that makes him or her irreplaceable and special, helps you to consider what they really need rather than what the traditions of their surface identity have dictated for them. This goes for students with learning, behavioral, and physical disabilities; students who are a different race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or nationality than you; students whose economic, social, or political background differ from yours; or who espouse beliefs that hit your triggers.

Allow me to illustrate with a personal story of my husband’s.  Curtis had an incredible kayaking mentor.  They spent twenty one days together on the Green and Colorado Rivers with five other employees and twentyish students.  We’ll call this mentor John, and he’s amazing.  He’s rafted every major river in the world including the Zambizi, many times. To Curtis, this man ranks somewhere next to the Apostles in terms of role models.  Anyway, throughout the 21 days, you can imagine everyone grew quite close.  Not seeing a shower, toilet, or electronic device for nearly a month does that to you.  And yet, all the students continued to accidentally call John by the name of the only other black instructor and vice versa (Remember there were only six instructors.  The name options are limited).  And John said this very piercing thing: “When you look at me, do you only see my blackness?”  In other words, “There’s more to me than my skin, a name for starters.”

Whoa.  Right? Isn’t that how we all feel? Do you only see my poverty? Do you only see that I’m abused?  Do you only see my father’s job?  Do you only see my divorce? Do you only see my reading problem? Do you only see my weight? Do you only see my dirty fingernails?  I know that last one was random, but it’s one I struggle with not seeing.

Another I struggle with, daily, is beautiful people.  Starting somewhere between age ten and fourteen, I grew a keen awareness of beautiful people as well as a prejudice toward them.  I’d define that prejudice as simply failing to see them as people. More generally I’d say the question that twinges in our hearts when people see us as our labels is “Am I just a category to you?”. Ouch. We all want to feel like we matter, and we respond to people who make us feel like we do.

I bet if you think about it for a second, you can zero in on a person in your life who sees you as an individual; they think of you as totally unique and worthwhile.  I bet you like being around that person. Now, back to Anna Leonowens. Even the concept of punishment (which I believe backfires everytime, but that’s the subject for another post another day), to her, has to originate from seeing a unique individual, rather than a label, object, or cardboard cutout that can be pushed over and will fling back up like those reflector posts that line highways.  During the schoolyard squabble, Anna makes it a point not to see a prince, or a Thai, or just another of 58 children, or even a little boy. She just sees Chulalongkorn.

Take a moment in your teaching to reflect on the following; see it as a little mantra, if you will.

This student is a human being.
He or she was born and will die someday, just like me.
He or she has a favorite pastime, a broken heart, worries, things to look forward to, and fears.
This person has parents, siblings, children, a spouse, etc.

Take ten seconds to do that with every student you meet, and I guarantee you’re going to feel changes in you and in your teaching. Suddenly you will have more compassion.  You will be able to meet your student where he or she is.  Even better than that, though, you’ll make a friend. My most meaningful teaching experiences have come to me when the relationship transcended one-way instruction and became a conversation between friends/equals.  My deepest regrets have come when I didn’t try hard enough to see past the category.

I think the real reason we remember Anna Leonowens, and revisit her story again and again, is that she tried to bridge a gap that seemed wider than the Grand Canyon: East/West, Man/Woman, Student/Mentor.  The exotic backdrop of nineteenth-century Thailand brings out the contrast in her exaggerated, rigid English mannerisms.  It’s the impossibility of friendship between these two vastly-different views of the world, and the friendship developing nevertheless that brings us back to the story.  In miniature, we experience it everyday as we attempt to draw closer to those around us.  The attempt is so hard, the successes can be so long in coming, but in the end it is so worth it.

What helps you see your students more clearly?  Any other useful mantras out there that help you teach to your student rather than to his or her category?


Part 1 of a New Series on Memorable Teachers: Fräulein Maria


This is part 1 of a series on memorable teachers. Teaching has been a very humbling experience for me as I’ve realized I still have much to learn about helping others learn. It’s driven me to look back on the teachers who inspired me and try to figure out what made them so effective.

Today, my teacher inspiration is Fräulein Maria, of Rogers & Hammerstein fame.  Lately in tutoring, I’ve been stymied by a few challenges I feel Maria is uniquely good at addressing.

No. 1 A student deliberately sabotages the relationship

That scene when the children, first, hide a live frog in her pocket, and then leave a prickly pine cone on her chair at dinner, is enough to drive any self-respecting adult up the wall. I’ve walked out on classes for less (I’m now ashamed to admit).

But what does Fräulein Maria do? Does she play the victim and immediately walk into the trap of power and punishment? No! Does she give up and quit? No way! She sagely, and humorously, describes their ‘welcome’ as what she wished it had been. To quote Maria “I’d like to thank each and every one of you for the precious gift (the frog) you left in my pocket earlier today.” She continues “…knowing how nervous I must’ve been, it was so kind of you to make my first moments here so warm and happy.” Dane Cook would call her a brain ninja.

No. 2 The other adults are not on board

Sometimes, what you truly feel will help a child, is completely at odds with the parents’ or other teachers’ views.  An example of this would be a person who believes a little boy just needs to be punished until he can learn to hold still at school.  This person may not want to hear that chairs are optional.  Simply removing a child’s chair and allowing him to stand alongside his desk, rather than sit, can improve his ability to focus on work.  “That won’t teach him discipline” they may rail.  Oh, no? Keep reading to issue No. 3.

Maria faces this with Captain von Trapp. In a scene what would probably get most of us fired, she stands her ground on what she knows is right and doesn’t let fear for her position keep her from telling the truth.

While a shouting match makes great cinema, a more tactful approach with your own colleagues/students’ parents may be more appropriate. I think the lesson from Maria is this: keep the best interests of the student in mind and leave your own ego out of it. Fear of being ill-received is not a good enough reason to abandon a learning strategy you truly believe will help a child.

No. 3 When Your Student Is So Distracted by the Environment That He Can’t Learn

Straight jacket uniforms. It’s almost the first issue Maria raises when she arrives at the von Trapps’. She wants to know when the children play and what they play in. When her request for help to get them play time and play clothes is denied, she makes them herself.

To me this is analogous to the problem of being unable to learn because the learning environment is so damn uncomfortable and confining. We’ve all been there. In the office with broken air conditioning, trying to work in the middle of June, or in school, hungry because we forgot our lunch money, or so stressed out by family/finance/work issues that you can’t even think straight. Imagine being a kid facing all of that, some of it secondhand from adults, but having no skills to deal with it.

Fräulein Maria has an answer for that, too. She adds food, play, rest, music, comfortable clothes, and movement. Of course she’s the dream teacher. For some really cool ideas on how to make the learning environment more peaceful and comfortable, check out the posts by Loren Shlaes at minds-in-bloom.com

A real-life success I witnessed, was when I was substitute teaching first grade. I had a student, we’ll call him Trey, with serious control issues. Trey absolutely didn’t want to be told what to do, and asserted his will so far as to do the exact opposite of what the teacher asked just to not give in to someone else.  He’d do it even if it caused him discomfort or to get in trouble and be punished.  If I said stand up, he sat down.  If I said take out your book and go to page ten, he sat their and stared at me waiting for me to try and get him to do it. It was clear this kid needed to feel some control and power over, at the very least, his own body. The hardest thing for him, was to sit in a chair with his legs tucked under the desk.  I left the regular teacher, a real saint, a note with this observation.

And do you know what? I subbed that class again about three months later and Trey was like a different kid. He was eager to start every lesson and activity and encouraged other kids to get going, too. You know the only thing the teacher changed?  She took away his chair, moved him to the side of the classroom facing the windows where there was less traffic, and let him stand while he worked! That’s it. The flexibility of standing rather than sitting gave him just the freedom he needed to be ready to learn.  It was awesome!

No. 4 When Your Student Is Resentful of Adults and Teachers

It’s difficult to maintain resentment toward a person who shows true interest in your thoughts and feelings, treats you like a rare treasure, and really tries to hear you.  Fräulein Maria starts off her relationship with the children on the right foot by asking each his or her name and a little bit about him or herself.  By doing so, she established a tiny, beginner relationship with each child as a unique individual with real thoughts and feelings.

My most favorite schoolteacher I ever had was Ms. Goble.  On the first day of our sophomore European history class, she spent the entire period going through the role, and trying to guess the heritage of our names.  She then made us all feel special about wherever our names were from by pointing out cool facts from each country.  By the end of that first day, she was everybody’s favorite teacher, and by the end of the school year, she was teacher of the year.

Maria and Ms. Goble beat the resentment that can sometimes grow between student and teacher, by doing something to  strengthen the relationship.  Find out about your student’s interests and talk about them.  Arrange to bring his or her favorite treat every now and then.  Imagine meeting him or her again in fifteen years, as an adult, and what you might say. How would you say it?  With a superior attitude, as we teachers sometimes fall into?  Or would you change what you say or how you say it?  Would you maybe show more consideration, tolerance, and patience; would you try to be more interested in their thoughts and feelings?

It’s impossible to be a perfect teacher every minute of every day, but you can have a few perfect teaching moments. It’s stringing together these little snippets of perfection that keep me going on tough days through tough teaching.  I know following the example of this great Austrian, at least in these four instances, can really ease the student-teacher relationship.  We remember and love Fräulein Maria, because we dreamed of having a teacher like her.  Well, folks, today’s the day.  You CAN be like her.  I hope this post has inspired you to test out a few of Maria’s methods.  Whenever I remember to apply them, they always help.

Do you have a favorite teacher?  A memorable mentor?  Someone who really inspired you? What did he or she do that made learning so special/easier/inspiring?