The best teachers I had were the most enthusiastic ones: The biology teacher who took us into the field to identify trees. The calculus teacher who invited the class to his house in the country for a combination barbecue / study session. The Russian history teacher who was himself taking extra night classes in his subject area. When they taught, they exuded commitment and excitement about their subjects. They didn’t literally say, Isn’t this great? This is so interesting! but they showed it with everything they did.
I believe that everyone who had Mr. Lindquist for English probably remembers him. He was the kind of teacher that inspires movies like "Dead Poets' Society." He was perhaps the most enthusiastic of the enthusiastic, practically jumping up and down as he quoted his favorite lines from the literary works we were reading. He once gave us a test so long and complicated that it took up not only his class period but spilled over into the classes following (which probably did not endear him to the other teachers. But it belies the myth that students just want teachers who are easy on them.). When he gave an assignment that required work at the local library, he drove those of us there who needed a ride. (I still remember him singing a song from “The Wizard of Oz” as he drove.)
In last month’s post here on YAOTL, I quoted some lines from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The reason I am able to quote that poem today is that Mr. Lindquist made my half of the class memorize the first part of it, and the other half memorize the second part (and we all read the rest together, so we would know how it turned out). For many of us, this was our first time giving an oral presentation before a group—a skill most of us would need. We learned about stage fright and overcoming stage fright. I watched those who went before me, how they glued their eyes to their feet, and I vowed not to do that when it was my turn. But when it was my turn, I found that I, too, was unable to look the audience in the eyes. I said the first lines of the poem with my eyes trained downward. “This is ridiculous,” I told myself. “You have to look UP!”
And finally, I figured out a trick. I lifted my eyes and focused on the back of the room. That way I didn’t have to look at people’s faces, but I was no longer staring at the ground.
Nowadays, I like giving talks, and I have no problem looking at the audience. (It helps if your audience is there voluntarily.) But my public-speaking career started in that junior-high classroom, under a teacher whose unspoken message to us was always, “This is difficult, but you can do it. And aren’t we having FUN?”