I was inspired to write this post after a very odd experience at the gym today. This morning, while sweating away on a stationary bike and reading the news on my new Nook, I looked up and saw a very familiar, but long forgotten, face. A picture of my fourth grade teacher was staring at me from across the room.
My fourth grade teacher on a giant poster at the local YMCA
To say that this man was influential to my education is a complete understatement. I came into Mr. Grant’s class as a shy, bespectacled 9-year-old who had recently switched out of my base school to attend a magnet school 30 minutes away from my house. My favorite place in the world was art class (my new school’s renowned fine arts program was one of the reasons why I was switching schools), I was bookish, and I was very introverted. While I was always friendly, I found making new friends embarrassingly difficult.
Looking back, Mr. Grant is actually one of the reasons I am the way I am today. Not only did he teach the fourth grade curriculum, he also taught life skills and treated students as individuals. Here’s how he changed my life:
1) He broke me out of my shell. As I said, I was horribly shy when I entered his class. Because my new school offered elective periods, he essentially told me that I was required to sign up for an elective called “Public Speaking and Debate”. I can not even explain how torturous this class was for me. Throughout the quarter, I was forced to stand in front of a class and deliver written speeches about any given topic. I WAS 9 YEARS OLD! I’m pretty sure this type of class would make a lot of shy adults crap themselves, let alone a young kid. But naturally, this class pushed me to become more comfortable in front of a group of people — a skill I no longer find daunting and, surprisingly, even enjoy now.
2) He recognized my potential in writing. I remember our class was very focused on learning to write creative stories. If I remember correctly, this might have been preparation for a state-given writing test. But throughout the year, Mr. Grant noticed my affinity for writing and pressed me to write more, even outside the given assignments. Now I’m looking at a career in writing.
3) He taught me how to properly shake someone’s hand. This was perhaps the most unorthodox part of our class. Every morning, we were expected to approach our teacher, shake his hand firmly with eye contact, and say “Good morning, Mr. Grant.” Every morning. If we didn’t do it correctly, we would repeat the handshake. Again, it was an introduction into the etiquette of the professional world at a very early age.
Me at age 9 with my dog, Maggie (scanned from a scrapbook I made at the time)
NY Times columnist and writer Nicholas Kristof wrote last January about the importance of having good teachers, pointing out a study that pinpoints our fourth grade teachers as the most influential year to a child’s success in life.
“Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime — or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class — all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. That’s right: A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year’s students, just in the extra income they will earn.” (Read more here)
He goes on to argue that these fourth grade teachers, in terms of economic worth, should technically be making $100,000+ a year. I can assure you that Mr. Grant wasn’t, but he put enough effort into the class to make you think he was. While it’s too early to say if all of these statistics will hold true for me, I can say that a lot of these findings make sense.
In less than a month, I’m going to have a classroom of my own and be working with kids the exact same age as I was then (I’ll be teaching ages 6-12). If I can take any lessons from my experience with Mr. Grant, it’s that a classroom is a collection of individuals with different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, and needs.
I hope that I can make an impact like this on my future students in China.
Thank you, Mr. Grant!