Roger Marolt: The magic of great teaching |

Roger Marolt: The magic of great teaching

Everybody has a favorite teacher who made a difference in their life.

I had so many outstanding teachers in the Aspen schools that made differences in mine it is difficult to single one out, but Mrs. Sheehan was a third-grade teacher whose influence I remember most clearly now.

One time, Mrs. Sheehan read something that I wrote. She sent me a short note telling me what she thought about it. I still have it. In it, she said inspiring things like, “You have such a wonderful style of writing … simultaneously funny, laid back, and eloquent. Equally as important though is your message … it is so refreshing. You expressed a viewpoint in a straightforward, positive way.”

She told me that one particular passage sent a very empowering message to kids. She said that I had a gift for writing. Heck, she just I assumed that I knew what most of those words she used meant.

Now, can you imagine how I felt after reading this note? That’s right, I was scared to death. I was worried that I couldn’t live up to her expectations. But, I was more afraid not to try. Mrs. Sheehan said so many encouraging things about my writing that, to this day, I don’t want to let her down.

I am convinced that most teachers teach because they love it. We should feel grateful, but at the same time embarrassed about that. Local real estate brokers make hundreds of thousands of dollars for simply getting two people to sign their names on a dotted line. And that can take months!

Teachers get kids shorter than The Hickory House wine list to strive before all the moms’ tears are dry on the first day of kindergarten. Then they go on to lead our children to do enough meaningful work to fill libraries with ideas that our future depends on. All for an annual salary that wouldn’t rent the old Banana Republic store for the winter.

The big payoff for teachers is the satisfaction of knowing that what they do is completely worthwhile. If we all had to measure our net worth on those terms, Starwood would still be a ranch.

From personal experience I know they put up with a lot too. Teachers are the mechanics that tune up our brains. Back when I was in school, they toiled to jump-start my engine. They tinkered all day to get it warmed up and running smoothly. How could they not be discouraged the next morning when I showed up and they popped my hood only to find that the block had gone stone cold overnight. Again.

I realize now that being a great teacher is so much more than just getting kids to read and learn their figures. It’s not about memorizing facts and formulas.

It is about showing students how to find answers in all different places and developing the analytical skills to determine which ones are right.

It’s about building confidence so that we can pursue our dreams without being afraid to fail from time to time. It is instilling the belief that the more we understand, the less we have to be afraid of. It is the ability to lead a student to a place where they begin to love learning for the sake of learning.

Do you have any idea how they turn raw sewage into water that is cleaner than the river they dump it back into? … without using chemicals? … in less than 48 hours? Do you know how an organic farm operates? Any ideas about what happened to the people who lived at Mesa Verde 400 years ago? Know much about beavers and owls?

These are just a few of the things our kids learn about before they graduate from fourth grade. In middle school they climb sheer rock faces and survive a night in the woods by themselves. In high school they literally spread out and see the world ” through their own eyes and those of their classmates.

All of these wonderful opportunities are the result of our teachers’ love of learning, love of their work and, most of all, love of our children. The quality of education doesn’t get any better than right here. At any level. Anywhere.

We have a boatload of educational opportunities here in Aspen. Take advantage of them. If you are not already, get involved with your child’s education. If for no other reason, I promise that you will be surprised at what you learn.

And that leads me back to the funny thing about my Mrs. Sheehan story. When I was in third grade, she never graded any of my homework or gave me a test. She never attended one of my parent/teacher conferences. I never saw her in the lunchroom, library or on the playground.

That fact of the matter is, she didn’t teach me one useful thing that year.

She hadn’t even been born.

Mrs. Sheehan was my daughter’s third-grade teacher.

I read that note from Mrs. Sheehan again right before I started writing this column. The most important thing about that note is not whether anyone else in the world agrees with her or believes what she said. It is that she made me believe it. That’s the magic of great teaching.

[Roger Marolt, born and raised in Aspen, has always wanted to write for The Aspen Times, he just didn’t know it. His column appears on Fridays]

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