This was in my inbox today and awakened an ocean of memories. I’m hopeful it may stir your thoughts and reflections about the educators that have impacted you and/or your children. At BFS, our teachers see and embrace what they do as a vocation rather than a job. They are interested in seeing, encouraging, and advancing each child’s promise with equal and keen attention to their learning, personhood, and qualities as a community member. With the gift of summer and more space in our lives – this summer more than others – please consider replying and sharing your memories about your learning experiences and relationship with a teacher.

By Colleen O. Potocki, head of middle school at Community School of Naples

“As the new school year nears, I get excited. Giddy. I love school, and I am glad to be a teacher and to work with teachers. Teachers changed my life. When I think about the teachers I had from elementary school through college, it is hard for me to decide which teacher had the most impact on me. I asked my husband Jim which teacher had the most significant impact on him. His answer was immediate: Mr. Paul Barber, Harrison High School, Music Director.

I cannot come up with a single person. To be honest, I remember bits and pieces of my teachers—physical attributes, snippets of shared time, leftover feelings. Still, impacting bits and pieces. Miss Attaman, my second grade teacher, wore a dress every day, had silky, long black hair, and never raised her voice. She was beautiful inside and out. When my friends and I played “school,” we fought over who played Mrs. Attaman. We all wanted to be her. 

My sixth grade teacher Mr. Slater had a beard. My 11-year-old self never knew an adult who had a beard, so I spent most of the school year watching his beard. He was single but married later in the school year. He liked baseball. On occasion, Mr. Slater raised his voice. After a reprimand, he spoiled us for the remainder of the day as if to restore balance. Extra recess time. No homework. Bubble gum. My best friend Tracy, wise beyond her years, often pushed for a verbal correction from Mr. Slater, anticipating the benefit of the kindness that followed. My mom often warned me not to be friends with Tracy. On occasion, she forbade me to be friends with Tracy.

Then there was my catechism teacher Sister Kathleen. A classmate asked her why she had become a nun. Sister Kathleen shared that God asked her to be a nun. We asked, “How did he ask you?” She explained God came in her mind and asked her in her thoughts. I spent a good portion of that school year worried that God was going to come into my head and ask me to be a nun. I was sure if I said yes, I would be unhappy. I was sure if I said no, I was going to Hell. It ended up being a false dilemma—the question never came.

Mrs. Siobel was my ninth grade biology teacher who did not shave her legs, was genius-smart, and had little patience for giggling girls. She lived and loved science. We apprehensively sat for her exams. There were no bonus points. No corrections. But always the invitation to repeat the class. If my friends and I still played “school” in high school, we would have fought over who was to be Mrs. Siobel. We all wanted to be her. 

Coach Butler taught 11th grade history and ran grueling three-hour Saturday morning basketball practices. I was not a standout player, but he pushed me anyway. With Coach Butler, life was simple. Know the rules. Show up. Follow the rules. Work hard. Success will come. His succinct maxims were reassuring. And we did win districts. Then, regionals.

In college, I had the inscrutable Professor Edward Haworth Hoeppner. He was a poet and a pacer. He walked from one side of the room to the other for the entire class period. He rant-lectured and recited verse from memory. He never wrote on the board. He often did not make sense. To me. Endless contradictions. He was not concerned. I was concerned, but Professor Hoeppner made me question whether I should be concerned. Professor Hoeppner introduced me to the poetry of William Carlos Williams, specifically the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

My list of teachers could go on. There is no standout singleton. Not a best. Not a worst. I do know that I carried something meaningful away from each classroom, each teacher. The learning and the relationship.

If I were to rewrite Williams’s opening to the “The Red Wheelbarrow” as a thought exercise: So much depends upon _______________________. My answer would be “teachers.” The teachers of my past. And—as the world turns—the teachers who are now my independent school colleagues.”

2 thoughts on “Please read, reflect, and reply!

  1. Reading this moved me to reflect on the teachers who had the most influence in my own life and choice to become a teacher. Then I thought of my scary 2nd grade math teacher who convinced me I was no good at math and I realized for the first time that she, too, was an influence. I was a better math teacher because of her. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that before.

  2. I love this story Paul. Very touching and familiar. I hope that Suraya has a real strong memory of her time at BFS. Happy Friday.

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