The "Favorite Teacher" Credential


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  "As my friend told me the story of a great teacher, he broke down with emotion. That teacher had kept him after school. His parents had questioned whether he was being kept after to be punished."


hink for a moment about your favorite teacher. What comes to mind? A teacher who was energetic, joyful, and kind? Someone strong, with high expectations, and demanding assignments? A teacher who said something unique that changed your life?

At a recent school board meeting trustees shared memories of great teachers. We used descriptors such as "fun", "enthusiastic," and "strict" to describe that special person who earned the title, "My Favorite Teacher."

Now in the days of No Child Left Behind, a system has emerged that rates schools according to a "Teacher Quality Index." TQI assigns schools a rating on a 1 to 10 point scale, with higher numbers indicating greater percentages of "highly qualified teachers."

I believe that every parent wants quality teachers for their child. However, not all agree on what makes a teacher top notch. The TQI rates teachers on the qualities of having a credential, having expertise in the subject matter, and number of years of teaching experience. Nobody can discredit these crucial aspects of teacher quality. However, there is far more to teacher quality than is revealed by the TQI. We recognize great teachers when we see them, and we remember these great teachers for the rest of our lives.

I was discussing bilingual education with a friend last weekend. He was raised in Southern California and spoke about his own experience which pre-dated bilingual education as we know it. The man told a personal story about reconnecting with a school friend of 70 years ago. Their shared history included living in a ghetto, speaking Spanish, and being taught in an English-only system. They talked about how they had become successful, although the odds were stacked against them.

As my friend told me the story of a great teacher, he broke down with emotion. That teacher had kept him after school. His parents had questioned whether he was being kept after to be punished. No, it wasn't a punishment. It was a teacher giving of her after school time to coach her English learners in skills of English pronunciation and grammar. He credited this teacher with his success in life.

Last night I heard a man talking about his memories from high school. He spoke of a counselor who told him that he was heading straight to jail. Whether this was a wake-up call or simply a bad prediction, the man proudly proclaimed that he had proven the counselor wrong and triumphed over hopelessness.

In addition to teachers, custodians, secretaries, and the other staff members who people our public schools, all have the opportunity to create a lasting, powerful memory for a student. A memory that brings joy, puzzlement, or anguish to a person years later.

When I remember my own great teachers, I can not pick out one that was my favorite. Rather I can pick out a favorite aspect of many teachers. There was Mrs. Raush who told the girls in the class that we should reshape our thinking about our futures and that we deserved and should prepare for the same career opportunities as the boys. This, being before women's liberation, was a novel concept. Most girls pictured themselves being supported by men, while raising children and keeping the house, as their mothers did. Thank you, Mrs. Another great teacher, Mrs. Ball, turned me on to art in the context of a world history class. I liked Mrs. Ball because she treated us teenagers as if we were intelligent human beings who would share her enthusiasm for learning about the past.

My fifth grade teacher turned me on to reading for pleasure. My eighth grade math teacher stimulated my interest in the career in teaching as he told silly stories about how arbitrarily he assigned grades to students on the basis of whose term paper was the "heaviest." My Spanish teacher inspired me to never give up.

Mac, my bus driver, took me happily to and from school for years in his big yellow bus. On weekends he taught me horseback riding in the hills around San Diego, becoming one of my favorite teachers.

Here in the Pajaro Valley, we have hundreds of teachers and other staff members who deserve the rating of Highly Qualified, not just for their credential, their experience and their knowledge. Why the other morning at 5:30 AM, I had to call up one of our local high school principals. I was prepared to leave a message on the machine. Can you imagine? That principal, Cec Bell, was there and answered my call at 5:30 AM. What does that tell you about our schools?

I would like to add to the Teacher Quality Index a super credential that some teachers and other staff members deserve. Being referred to as "My Favorite Teacher" signifies an awesome credential and a person deserving the title of "Highly Qualified Teacher."

Sandra Nichols is past president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 19,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with the Santa Cruz City School District, and served on the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

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© Sandra Nichols 2004