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Wes has been writing a lot lately about stories and their influence over who we are and where we are going, so I’ve been reflecting on the stories and memories that have shaped me.
When I was doing my credential program, one of our assignments was to write about a favorite teacher. I remember knowing immediately who I would choose, and why. I still remember her name–Mrs. Jelnick. She was my high school honors English teacher, and although I don’t remember a whole lot of what I learned in her classroom, I remember the things she said to me, and the way I felt when I was in her class.
She started class on the first day, and got down to business. It was like every minute counted in her class, and I could see that she really wanted us to learn. She was kind and approachable, yet she did not pretend to be our friend. I appreciated that she questioned my work, and took the time to ask me why I wasn’t coming to school. Not one other teacher asked me what was going on or why I had missed so much school, so when Mrs. Jelnick asked me to come see her at lunch, I actually took the time to do it.
When I saw her at lunch I explained to her that I didn’t feel like I could do the work, and that I felt like I didn’t belong in the honors classes, or at that school for that matter. I will never forget her telling me that I reminded her of herself at that age, and that I was one of the smartest students in her class. She told me just to try the next assignment, which was a presentation, and that she knew I could do it. I still remember her nodding her head in encouragement as I presented my project, which was the first assignment I had done in awhile.
As I was reading an article the other day about equity and the teacher as a “warm demander,” I was reminded immediately of Mrs. Jelnick. In the article it describes warm demanders as teachers who “expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment.” Mrs. Jelnick did all of that, and more. She doesn’t know it, but she helped me to be more thoughtful in the classroom, and to think more closely about how students perceive our actions or inactions. She also taught me to think about more about what students might need from us as opposed to what makes us feel good about ourselves.
There are four things the article uses to describe a teacher who is a warm-demander, all of which I saw demonstrated by my favorite teacher. A warm-demander believes that all students can learn, builds trust, communicates respect through high expectations, and embraces failure. I am so grateful to have had a teacher like Mrs. Jelnick who gave me an example of what it feels like to be a student in a class with a teacher who embodies all of these qualities.
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