Friday, April 23, 2010

What do you remember about school?

My memories of school are focused on people. The funny and caring teachers, the cafeteria lady who used to give me an extra grilled-cheese sandwich, the kids who I sat with in math class, the custodian who seemed to know everything about the NY Knicks, my coach, the secretary who still remembered my voice on the phone long after I had graduated, the smell of the floor cleaner, the sixth grade trip on Uncle Sam’s Boat Tour, selling pizza’s to raise money for the sixth grade trip, graduation, that big game, baking ‘stuff’ in Home Ec and then putting-on a dinner for the Board, the play (I was the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland), playing my trumpet with my friend Aaron, my principal going to all the basketball games, ect., ect., ect.

I also remember many things about the academics…listening to Mr. Grudowski in Chemistry, learning Mrs. Buckingham’s science vocabulary for the next laboratory, Mrs. Master’s grammar lessons, Mr. Pitkin and Mr. Stemples teaching math through problem-solving, Mrs. Maguire telling me that I don’t have to go to Resource Room anymore, Mrs. Brothers dramatizing stories of the Civil War, Earth Science and Physics with Doc Cardinal, Mr. Richardson telling us about puberty, Mrs. Romonda and Mrs. Francey helping me learn my times tables, and who can forget Mr. Tasitano teaching me what it really meant by the phrase, To be or not to be.

As I reminisce, it dawns on me that I can’t balance a chemistry equation and have no idea what an endoplasmic reticulum is. Calculus is kind of like math and you can tell from my writing that grammar sometimes escapes me. I do think of myself as a problem-solver, but I will admit that a Geometry Regents would stump me. I do remember what I learned in Health class and my times tables are rather solid, but I am still trying to figure out Hamlet.

So, what do I really remember about school? It’s the people. I obviously learned the academics along the way, but it is the people who shaped me through the experiences and opportunities that they provided.

I had an incredible experience today which I’d like to share. It started me thinking about the experience our current students will remember. After speaking at a workshop for education majors at SUNY Potsdam, a young woman came up and introduced herself. I couldn’t believe who was standing in front of me – it was a student who I had taught in 7th and 8th grade math back in ’93 and ’94. We talked for a few brief minutes and she shared many things that she remembered about my class and her time at AAK. She did not regale me with her memory of algebra and she had no idea about the number of hours which it took me to plan each lesson and unit. Rather, her memory was about me, how I treated her, the classroom dynamics, our time struggling together with basic algebra, and the climate of my room.

As I conclude my thoughts, I should have chosen a better title. Maybe, “What do you want your students to remember?”

(Anna Allen-Wolf, PCS class of 1998, is becoming a math teacher at SUNY Potsdam.)