In the course of my school days, I had a handful of great teachers to whom I will be eternally grateful. They taught me to learn, to love reading, to make up stories and write them down. To write non-fiction that was complete, accurate and unbiased. To find humor in physics. To love history, religion, archaeology, philosophy and the mysteries of our world.

They encouraged curiosity, imagination and creative thinking.

This is P.S, 35. It’s still there, but I’m not.

Mrs. Schiff, a 4th-grade teacher at P.S. 35. She suggested I write “diaries” of historical people and put myself into their worlds. Thank you. You encouraged me to write and find other worlds.

Dr. Silver, who taught English Literature and Linguistics at Jamaica High school. He forced me to parse sentences and respect punctuation and grammar while making me laugh. His doctorate in Linguistics helped him make our language intriguing, like a giant mystery to unravel. I’m still unraveling it.

Dr. Feiffer — my high school physics teacher — taught me, the least mathematically inclined student ever, could be fascinated by science. I never got together with numbers, but I learned to love science and I still do. The logic of it, the truth of it, the importance of it have stayed with me an entire lifetime.

Professor. Wekerle, head of Hofstra University’s Philosophy department. He believed in me. He taught phenomenology, History of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, but more importantly, saw through my bullshit. The first — and ONLY professor to give me a grade of D-/A+ … D- for content, A+ for style. He didn’t let me get away with anything. He made me fill in all those leaps of logic even though I whined vociferously that “everyone knows that stuff.”

Hofstra in 2014

Wekerle said “No, they don’t. You know it. Now tell them about it.” And I did and from that, I extracted a 40-year career.

I got what so much from these overworked and underpaid teachers who were dedicated to teaching dunderheads and wise-asses like me to think, write, research and love learning. Bless them all. The gifts they gave me were precious beyond words!

Categories: Anecdote, Education, Humor, Marilyn Armstrong

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36 replies

  1. There must be something about high school English teachers. For me it was Mr Bradley. I was always the quiet girl in the 2nd row, but he took the time to not let me slip away and blend into the class. He was a favorite with all the girls, but for me he was a favorite who paid attention to all his students–not just the high achievers, as was the case with most other teachers. These teachers should be proud of your deferred thanks to them, Marilyn.


    • In the long blur of teachers I had, this handful really stands out. They made a difference. A good teacher can make ALL the difference in the world especially when you are one of the kids who aren’t popular and don’t get a lot of positive attention.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Teaching: I’ve always considered one of the most honorable, important and least respected job in our crazy world. Crazy, crazy perspective.

        Hey, show them the money, please!


  2. It seems to be that way everywhere. If schools want to be funded they have to justify their results so they just train the kids to pass the tests. I did not have teachers who challenged me academically so much but I did have some that opened my mind to new ideas and opinions that I would never have heard at home.


  3. I would have been happy being a forever student. I loved to learn and I, like you, were blessed with incredibly gifted teacher, who made learning fun, who encouraged thought, who delved into questions that had multiple possibilities as answers and who taught us how to research and come up with an answer that we could live with. I loved school. I only wished there were more teachers or perhaps students inclined to learn that someone could light a fire inside of so they did.


    • I did eventually get tired of school, but by then I already had a B.A. and couldn’t see any reason to continue since they wouldn’t let me continue in any field in which I was interested. Today probably they would, but this was 1968 and they were a lot more rigid back then.


      • Yeah I get that. Thankfully THAT much has changed at least!


        • But public school education has gotten so awful. I don’t know how teachers deal with the restrictions … and it’s easy to see why kids hate it.


          • I know. I agree. Over the years I’ve seen education cut and cut and cut and each year the kids learn less and less. My mother grew up going to school in a one room school house and was pulled out in grade 6 to work on the farm. Her education was equivalent to a university degree in my day. My education is equivalent to a university degree in my kids generation and I see the same happening still. My grandson is learning his multiplication tables in GRADE 5. All this bs about there being too much for children to learn and cope with is just that! Uneducated ppl makes for gullible people who will buy anything.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Even when I went to college, it was easier than high school. No real homework except reading and an occasional paper to write. Reading and writing were what I did best anyway. I thought, overall, that college was a breeze except for that one semester of mandatory math. Once I got past freshman year, the rest was hanging around the quad in good weather and playing bridge in the lounge on the rest. But of course, I was a liberal arts major, so there wasn’t a lot of heavy lifting involved.


  4. You had some really good teachers Marilyn. We weren’t all so lucky.


  5. I had some of those (two that really leap to mind)…my junior year English teacher, who encouraged me to embark on a writing career (I didn’t listen) and my senior year English teacher who encouraged me to write…journalism. Again I didn’t listen. We all choose paths but a good teacher makes the journey interesting….your own stories, Marilyn, are so interesting. I’m glad you did listen to those who influenced you. I loved physics and science too (in high school), but math? Well I’m in the chair next to you in the mathematically challenged classroom…


    • I think I was inclined toward being a writer anyway. She just gave me a push. It was also nice that someone — an adult! — besides me thought I could write. I think I always wanted to be a writer as long as I’ve wanted to be anything. Once I gave up “Cowboy” and “Ballerina,” and finally, “concert pianist,” writer stuck.


  6. The greatest teachers I had were also the toughest. They were wonderful role models for me when I became a teacher and gained the reputation of being “tough but fair.”


    • All of these were tougher on me than other teachers. I think when they see you’ve got “something,” they feel they need to push you harder to get you moving in the right direction. I could always do the easy stuff so they made me work just that much harder.


  7. Love your reflections, here, Marilyn. Now you’ve got me thinking back…


  8. Great teachers are worth their weight in gold… and more, for humans are always more valuable than mere metal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • These days, it’s all about standardized tests. I wonder if kids in public school learn to THINK. Our Massachusetts schools are merely prep courses for testing. Awful.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My mom was a teacher. When she had to go from teaching in her own unique way to teaching towards a test, she retired… I agree, education isn’t just about learning “things” and facts, it’s learning how to think. I wrote a post of training vs education, and that was my distinction. Right now they are training kids,not educating them.


        • Teaching everyone to memorize. It’s like the 18th century all over again.

          I keep hoping that among other changes, we stop the standardized testing as the only way to gauge student’s abilities and go back to a human approach. By the time my granddaughter got into school, there was only studying for tests. No real teaching at all. I don’t know how anyone puts up with that. As a teacher, it must be awful.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I know that a lot of teachers hate it. Funny thing, though, the hated “Common Core” Math actually teaches kids to think to some degree. They learn it the way we were taught (what used to be called “the new math”!), but they also learn it the way way that I made up on my own because I hated the way the school did it 😉 This way breaks a hard problem into easy problems. It is a small shift of the way you look at it. By learning more than one way of solving the problem, one of which is breaking down a big problem into smaller solvable problems, the kids actually learn the underlying skill of problem solving that they never used to teach. Except for good teachers.


            • It’s nice that something is better. I got math right before new math in elementary school, but new math caught up with me by middle school. I never understood “new” math or why it was better than the old stuff. It was harder to do by far.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I’m not sure what the “old” math was, but from what I read, the new math was created so US kids received a deeper understanding about what math really was and not just rote memorization of times tables and things. Not sure if that is right or not… The new, new math (Core Comp) seems hard to people not used to it, but it is mostly just because of the terms used. I am literally a mathematician and couldn’t figure out my 10 year old nephews homework until I read his “textbook” and then it was, “Oh! this is the way I would do it, but where did these terms come from?” As I said, I invented my own math to make it easier, so I had no terms for it….

                Liked by 1 person

                • Memorizing times tables was easy and I really don’t see how you can do arithmetic without knowing the times tables — no matter what system you use. But I can run a grocery tab in my head as I shop and wind up at the checkout knowing within a dollar or two (I round up) of what I owe. Kids who learn newer math cannot do that. They’ve never learned to round up or down, to add a whole number, then subtract the difference — or even know what “difference” means. Mostly, I think the new math isn’t very useful to people who have simple work to do. A deeper level is great, but how about learning the basics first?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Actually, the “new-new” math is closer to that (rounding,not memorizing). I don’t know it well enough to explain, but you add, subtract, multiply, etc. easy numbers. You start with big blocks and work down to smaller blocks. As to tables, I HATED tables and did awful when they forced us to use them, until I discovered that I could do it using easy numbers then multiply, add, subtract or whatever to get the answer. So as a 4th grader, I might not remember 7 x 9, but I knew that 7 x 10 was 70 and 7 less was 63. I might have been a little slower than the kids who memorized, but I was also right 100% of the time (I HATED speed drills even more than memorizing!) The kids who memorized the tables without learning what they meant had no idea how to extrapolate the information to different settings.
                    Back to “new-new” – from teacher I talked to, one idea is that ever child learns things in a different way, so they teach different approaches to the same answer. For the kids you get method A but not B, this is better than l;earning just B, but for the kids who get all of them, it gives them a bigger toolset for problem solving.


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