Teachers’ Influence: Nurturing Students’ Unique Talents

I suspect that most all of us who have found meaningful professional work – and perhaps especially teachers — can tell the story of at least one teacher‘s strong positive influence.  In a recent NY Times Op-ed article, “What I Learned at School,” Marie Myung-Ok Lee, who now teaches writing at Brown,  tells how two former high school English teachers gave her the attention and confidence to find acceptance in her school and go on to become a writer.

Perceived as a “bookish introvert” by her peers, Ms. Lee took refuge in reading and writing stories.  As is often the case, a teacher recognized Ms. Lee’s literary ability at a critical time in her life and took the time to guide her studies and challenge her abilities. (Among the many valuable lessons Ms. Lee must have learned, she tells how despite sweating palms she touched her classmates with her insights about poet Sylvia Plath.)  Fortunate that her next year’s English teacher was equally sensitive to her unique talents, Ms. Lee was allowed to skip classes in grammar where she already excelled and work in the library on a story that would later be published in Seventeen Magazine.

Standing quietly in the background, both Ms. Lee’s teachers enabled her to gain  favorable recognition among her peers and pursue her life’s work.  She concludes that “With today’s pressure on teachers to “teach to the test,” I wonder if any would or could take the time to coax out the potential in a single, shy student. . . Good teaching helps make productive and fully realized adults — a result that won’t show up in each semester’s test scores and statistics.”

We’d love to hear your comments about a teacher who made an impact on your life or about a student whose  individual strengths you’ve nurtured, despite today’s budgetary constraints and standardized assessments.  Share some of your thoughts with us using the blog comments feature!

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