Every Kid Should have the Chance to Become a Dancing Environmentalist

– Posted in: Movies, School, Things To Do with Kids, Worst Mom Rants

Here’s a testament to how well people learn when the material means something to them — I can remember second grade better than, well, most of college.

I had a teacher, Mrs. Keyes, who made you forget you were in school. Let me give you some examples. For the science fair, we made a giant, paper mache, blue whale. I’m not sure how we moved it once it was done, but I do recall that at some point, it took up the entire length of the classroom. We all wrote reports, and I will never forget that blue whales eat krill and have baleen, not teeth. Take-away lessons for an 8-year-old: Humans can make animals go away forever if we’re not careful. And putting your hands in huge buckets of floury newspaper is awesome.

2nd Grade Whale Project

As you can see, I was rockin’ the orange parka and brown loafers.

2nd Grade Whale Project2

And I still have this hat…

Then there was the great can collection. Keep in mind that this was in the 1970s when everybody didn’t just stick their recycling on the curb. All the kids diligently brought in their cans (I think I recall pushing my dad to drink more soda than usual), stacked them neatly in columns and rows, and counted to a thousand. Then we sent them to the recycling center and used the money to have a party. Take-away lessons for an 8-year-old: People who don’t recycle are crazy. And a thousand is a lot.

And there was dancing. We learned to do the Horah to Hava Nagila. Take-away lessons for an 8-year-old: Why the heck wouldn’t everybody want to be Jewish? And I am an awesome dancer…

Truly, I could go on and on about her class. My husband had her the year before me, and he remembers how she got him to come into the room on the first day of school by showing him the class ferret. It was a bad day for his parents — they’d dragged him, kicking and screaming to school, and at one point, they had to wrench him off the door jam of the classroom (and you thought you had problems). Mrs. Keyes turned out to be one of his best teachers too — she figured out that she just needed to give him extra responsibilities every day. I’m sure someone else would’ve permanently stuck him in a corner.

Anyway, I thought of Mrs. Keyes today because of a documentary that’s airing Friday, September 6th on CBS. “TEACH” chronicles a year-in-the-life of four inspiring teachers. It’s a Davis Guggenheim project, so you know it’ll be good (he’s the guy who did An Inconvenient Truth).

Please pass this on — I hope as many people watch it as possible. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sick and tired of people blaming teachers for all the problems we’re having with our schools. In fact, I think it’s time for another analogy (because we all know how much I loves me my analogies)…

Say you’re running a restaurant, and you decide it’s not a top priority to invest in good equipment for the kitchen, buy fresh food, or make sure the knifes are routinely sharpened. You’re convinced that your professionally trained chefs (who get paid crap) are working for you because they can’t really do anything else and are just kind of lazy. You also assume they’re not very bright, so you tell them exactly how they’re supposed to cook everything, even if they have ideas about how to make things taste better.

When the food starts coming out of the kitchen and people complain that it sucks, you of course blame the chefs. So then you decide to finally invest some money — on an outside consultant to come in, taste the food, and tell you exactly “what’s gone wrong” (and incidentally, the consultant only knows how to use a microwave).

Folks, it’s time to invest in the kitchen, fire the consultant, and pay the chefs. And stop treating them like we don’t even trust them to boil water.

TEACH Documentary

Got a favorite teacher story? I’d love to hear it!


Thanks to Participant Media for sponsoring this post and allowing me to support teachers everywhere.


12 Comments… add one

Ginger August 29, 2013, 8:01 pm

Tammy- I love this post, in part because I personally hope I was that kind of teacher…but mostly because you outline so distinctly how a wonderful, inspiring teacher can make all the difference. And it is wonderful that your remember that, because most of the time we remember the teachers who told us, when we asked how multiplication tables got their answers, “it is on the board, what don’t you get?” So therefore math became a subject to avoid. Math is why you cheated from the girl next to you for two years, math is why you hated school. But then there is the teacher that realized you didn’t know the times tables in 5th grade so she helps you. She is the teacher who introduced you to Little House on the prairie. There are so many good teachers out there…I hope and pray that my children get to experience them. Your example also shows how teaching is not just book learning, but experiencing the world, thinking outside the box, and teaching lifelong lessons. Learning is fun amongst the hard work. Thanks for the shout-out to great teaching.

Tammy August 30, 2013, 11:16 am

I’m sure you were that teacher. And I’m sure you’re that teacher with your own kids.

Michelle J August 29, 2013, 8:19 pm

Because you asked – Dr. Downing, my Freshman college English professor. She gave me the same feedback on my writing that my high school teachers had provided (but more constructive than the high school teacher who had written “yuck” in the margin of the first paper he graded of mine) and then actually (wait for it – this is shocking) told me HOW TO FIX IT. She also made us all write really long papers and then edit them down to shorter papers. I’m not sure my employees always appreciate it, but I also have her to thank for my editing skills. A few years ago, I tracked her down and sent her a thank you note. Not surprisingly, when I tracked her down online, I came across the awards she had received as a teacher.

Tammy August 30, 2013, 11:13 am

I love that story! It makes me a little verklempt.

Polly August 29, 2013, 9:07 pm

THANK YOU. I have 130 (no exaggeration, honest) GRADUATE units–more than an engineer, attorney, or accountant and nearly as much as a doctor–but everything that goes wrong in the whole damn country is my fault and I’m overpaid on top of it. Yep. Oh, don’t get me started. I went back to work today…..
My best teacher ever–and I had some really great ones along the way–was Mrs. Barnhardt, first grade. She made us believe the whole WORLD was in books. And she was right!
I can’t tell you how old I was when I realized she did not, in fact, personally write the Thorndike-Barnhardt primary grades dictionary.

Tammy August 30, 2013, 11:12 am

Well really, everything in the country IS your fault. Pretty sure I can trace it all back specifically to YOU.;)

The whole world is in books. I just love that.

Maxabella September 1, 2013, 3:59 am

For sure, the world needs more dancing environmentalists!! x
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Tammy September 1, 2013, 2:57 pm

Yes it does!

Deb S September 1, 2013, 1:24 pm

Great analogy! My favorite teacher wasn’t a teacher at all, but he taught me more about learning than any of my “teachers” ever did. His name was Mr. McIlvaney and he was the principle at my high school. At the end of my junior yearn I was about to drop out of school and take a GED instead. Classes were “boring” to me and did not challenge me intellectually or emotionally. It was a waste of my time and my teachers efforts. Mr M knew my family, so my parents suggested that I talk to him to see if there were options other than dropping out. He suggested that I mightbe able to take doubles of the required classes (I.e. 2 histories, 2 maths, etc.) and finish up in one semester. It was the best semester of high school and I graduated “early”. From Mr MI learned that education is only fun if you are challenged to grow through the process. Simply learning facts and figures without a context is drudgery but when I saw a purpose to them, it suddenly became interesting. Funny to think that 30 years (and a PhD) later, I am a teacher. I often tell my story to my students – your college professor almost didn’t make it through high school!

Tammy September 1, 2013, 2:57 pm

No wonder you’re such a rebel, Deb!

Andrea September 2, 2013, 12:40 pm

I agree with this so much. Teachers are expected to teach kids everything they need to know. In reality, teachers only have kids for about one-third of an entire year. Parents need to take up the slack, realize that they have a huge part in children’s education, and support them.
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Tammy September 13, 2013, 12:36 am

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