[M.A.P.L.E. IV-5] Thank A Teacher (times seven)

In the United States, the first full week in May is National Teacher Appreciation Week, and today happens to be National Teacher Appreciation Day. As I have found myself to be passionate about teaching, I know that it has partially come from great teachers during my primary and secondary school years. Thus, I’d like to dedicate this post to seven of my most influential teachers from those times.

An apple with #thankateacher.

It’s National Teacher Day! Consider your most influential teachers from your school years. (Image credit: http://www.nea.org)

Mrs. Moen

My second grade year was the beginning of my “new” life, so to speak, after I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. After a difficult first-grade year (socially), my second grade year went really well. I give a lot of credit to Mrs. Moen for my second grade year.

In previous blog posts, I have mentioned the Writing Process, or the 100th day of school, and both of these came from second grade. I also remember, when she taught math, how we always had to add in columns from right to left, or else we might hang by the flagpole! (Teachers probably wouldn’t be able to use that joke nowadays…)

I enjoyed my second grade year, perhaps because I felt that I was starting to be understood by others. Maybe my mind could tell that Mrs. Moen knew how to engage me in the classroom and socially, in tandem with Mrs. Krueger, the speech pathologist at Cooper.

Mrs. Sanks

Interestingly, fifth grade was also “the year after a major life change,” and I had a great teacher that year. The life change in fourth grade was moving from Fort Dodge to Lincoln. I feel that socially, most of my fourth grade year was trying to get acquainted to a new place, and I feel that I was a fish out of water.

Mrs. Sanks made the home-room class (where we also did social studies or science) a lot of fun, and also saw my potential of advancement in mathematics. Although I had always had interest in math, it seemed that I didn’t get an opportunity to show it during school. These enrichment activities, however, I did not spend much effort, and I remember the written comment, “You gave up too easily on Variety of Problems” (or something along those lines).

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but it may have been a first case of something seriously challenging me academically, and it wasn’t yet a wake-up call to me. I remember talking with her at least once about it, and her words were encouraging to me… essentially stating that life doesn’t always come easily.

I mentioned on a previous blog post that at the end of my fifth grade year, I gave Mrs. Sanks a hug as I left the school for the summer… which may have been my first time hugging someone other than a family member.  I still appreciate the influence that she had on my studying, seventeen years later.

Mrs. Ellenberger

Seventh grade was a year of transition, having been promoted from Humann Elementary School (which housed sixth-graders) to Pound Middle School. Early in the year, fourth period (Science) became my favorite class. We studied various areas of science in a buffet-line style throughout the year.  Mrs. Ellenberger’s indefatigable enthusiasm rubbed off on me every day, and made me excited for the class.

In addition to the academic content, the class included many great demonstrations and laboratory exercises, and she loved to sing and use unforgettable musical mnemonics. For example, the movement of tectonic plates:

Diverging move apart!

Hooooooot spot!

Converge, subduct, trench, KABOOM!

Sliding, transform.

Or, the functions of xylem and phloem in plants:

(while moving arms up) Xylem zips water…

…up from the ROOTS!

(while moving arms down) Phloem carries food down.

My Teacher’s Pet personality continued with Mrs. Ellenberger throughout middle school: I was a student assistant for her in my ninth-grade year, and I invited her to my sixteenth birthday party. In fact, her gift at the latter is where I became encouraged to add Hawai’ian shirts to my wardrobe rotation!

Mr. Schulz

Throughout middle school, I was in band class, and Mr. Schulz was the band leader throughout my time there.  Many of the songs that we played in class have stuck in my head, and continue to give me good memories of his class.  In particular, the overtures by James Swearingen (e.g., Invicta, Windemere) regularly play on my MP3 player.

He had a lot of energy in teaching the class (yes, this theme is important for me), and always used humor that aligned with my sense.  This made it fun to (re)learn the musical terms, and on the quizzes (er… Opportunities to Show What You Know In Written Form For A Grade), some of the matching options made me laugh.  (One of the distractors: “Same distance between telephone poles.” Another: “Play as loud as you can.”)

I don’t know how it happened, but I became a teacher’s pet for Mr. Schulz as well, and was trusted with entering in grades to his gradebook… entering the number of minutes from others’ practice sheets.  Obviously, I didn’t use any of these numbers to turn against my fellow classmates.  In fact, I still remember the password that he had for his gradebook program… but because I don’t want to get shot, I won’t say it (even though he has retired :)).

Oh, and one more thing from his syllabus during my three years at Pound which I gave him a hard time about each year:

Students need to have access to a pencil (not a pen) EVRY DAY! When I tell them to “get the lead out,” I mean for them to grab their pencil 🙂

Mrs. Christiansen (z”l) and Dr. Larson

Although these are two separate teachers, they worked in some sense as a team throughout my middle school years. One of the reasons that my family moved to Lincoln in 1996 was because the schools in Fort Dodge could largely not adapt to my situation of needing I.E.P. services, but also being academically gifted.  Christiansen was my gifted coordinator, and Larson was my special education coordinator.

During my seventh and eighth grade years, I got to know both of them, and both of them became excellent confidants for me to express my academic and social concerns.  I can’t explicitly remember the situations when I talked with them, but they always had a calming presence during times when I was maybe a little out of sorts.  I often ate lunch with Dr. Larson and Mr. Schulz at Pound, and although they were my “superiors” so to speak, I think that talking with them made me realize that I have the ability to be social with my peers.

In my ninth-grade year, Mrs. Christiansen was also my English teacher, and her class was, by far, the most difficult class that I had taken to that point.  It took me a lot of effort to understand some of the readings like Romeo and Juliet or Les Miserables. She gave me excellent advice for breaking down texts, patience with reading, and ideas for doing research for a later project that we had.  She also calmed some of my fears during that year, which was 2001-02 (i.e., the year of September 11).

Both of them have been excellent confidants for me ever since Pound. I invited both of them to my בר מצווה (bar mitzvah) and sixteenth birthday celebration. During high school and even college, I called them on an infrequent basis. And then, when I moved to Northwestern, I organized lunch rendezvous with them each winter break that I returned to Lincoln.

Unfortunately, the lunch bunch will not happen next winter even if I do get a chance to return to Lincoln, because there’s the (z”l) after Mrs. Christiansen’s name, and Dr. Larson moved to Texas.

Mr. McEntarffer

My junior year of high school ended up being my most difficult year academically, with four Advanced Placement classes, including Language/Composition and U.S. History.  The classes of humanities were always more difficult for me in high school than the science courses.

Social sciences are an interesting beast, as being a middle ground in some sense. I originally took the course simply because it was an A.P. course, but soon found that it was a really fun course.

Mr. Mac was the first instructor of several psychology courses that I took throughout high school and college. I found that almost every instructor had a great personality and made the class a lot of fun.

What sorts of fun things happened in class? Some of my favorite: the renaming of exams as “Learning Festivals” was one. The World’s Shortest Field Trip was another, and sitting on the futon was a third.  (Sometimes, I even sat on the floor rather than a desk or the futon! Ha!)

Oh, and his love of the exclamation, “Ha!”

His eccentricity in teaching, and obvious love of the subject, rubbed off on me and encouraged me to become a psychology minor, with a focus in cognitive psychology.  One of my favorite assignments was “Examine your memories,” and I had the primary source of my journal from the Duke T.I.P. camp to provide concrete evidence!


These seven teachers are among those that have had the biggest influence on me, even to today. Whether it was the seemingly mutual empathy, the infectious enthusiasm, or the subject that they taught, I definitely would not have blossomed to be the person that I am today if it weren’t for these individuals.  Because of them, it encourages me to pay it forward and create a positive influence on the next generation of college students.

Obviously, they are not my only great teachers, but I give them particular accolades. I must say that I have never had a bad teacher as I see it.  I will likely make a separate post for the excellent mentors that I have worked with sometime in the near future.

I realize this was a long-winded post, but words alone cannot express my appreciation toward my teachers.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!


Today is the fifth day of the fourth round of M.A.P.L.E.

היום אחד ושלושים יום–שהם ארבעה שבועות ושלושה ימים לעומר

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