Do you have a memory of a teacher who really made a difference in your life? For me, it was Miss Robinson, my third grade teacher.
I vividly remember one moment when she greeted me at the classroom doorway. She always had something nice to say to me, but that day was special. I don’t recall the words she said, but I can still remember the feeling, and smiling from ear to ear. She was probably capitalizing (active constructive responding) on something I said. I placed an anecdote about this moment in a book that Sherri Fisher, Dave Shearon, and I are writing.
This is an illustration of the peak-end rule, studied by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. He claims that people tend to remember and judge past experiences based what they were like when they were at their peak, and how the experience ended. The peak experience can be either pleasant or unpleasant.
In January, my father and step-mother called to tell me that they had been introduced to Miss Robinson by a mutual friend. Miss R. had retired about 10 years ago after many years as a teacher and building principal. Hearing the last name “Yeager” jogged her memory and she asked if they had a son. Then it all came together for her. “Yes, I had John in third grade. He was a very quiet boy.” She asked my father to please remember her to me, and to also ask me what I remembered about her class.
Soon after, I called Miss Robinson and told her how important that moment in the doorway was to me, and how much I still value the memory after almost 46 years. Her strong, low pitched voice echoed with gratitude. At age 77, she hadn’t lost the spark in her voice. Then, something very interesting happened. The sensory experience of hearing her voice transported me back to third grade and a time she held me responsible for some “off task” behavior in class. She was tough at times, holding us accountable, but was always fair.
Another example of the peak-end rule came from an unpleasant memory in first grade. The boys and girls in my class had all been escorted to our respective lavatories. Not needing to “go” at that time, I went in and just washed my hands. Twenty minutes or so, after returning to the classroom, my brain and body signaled me that it was time to go. So, I raised my hand and asked my teacher for permission to go to the rest room. Her answer was an emphatic “NO! You already had your chance.” Well, I showed her! Unfortunately, the shame of a yellow puddle under my desk wasn’t a memory I would choose to keep.
So, here’s to you Miss Robinson, my third grade teacher. And here’s to you, my first grade teacher. As an educator for the past 33 years, I have never once refused a student’s plea to use the rest room. Thanks for the memories!
Myriam teaching at Davies Lane Primary School by spiraltri3e, thankateachertoday.org
Kahneman, D. (1999). Objective Happiness. In Kahneman, D., Diener, E. and Schwarz, N. (eds.). Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. New York: Russel Sage. pp. 3-25.
This is a lovely article–at once personal and professional–and is a warm reminder of the special teachers who have left us with both sensory and cognitive memories. Miss Robinson is a teacher rock star! How very cool that you got to thank her years later for rocking your third grade.
I retired from college teaching two years ago and often wonder how some of my memorable students are doing.
One student, a young lady, stands out because she was slacking off in my class in spite of her keen ability. She was hanging around with goof-offs who were distracting her from her studies.
Rather than flunk her, I insisted that she drop my class and reenroll the next semester with a fresh start. I questioned her about her goals and she admitted that she had thought of becoming a lawyer, but it was clear she wasn’t confident she could do it.
She passed my class and I didn’t see her anymore until I caught a glimpse of a familiar face on a Meetup.com page. I read her description. It was my former student and she has indeed become a lawyer. I smiled with pride to read that. We’re in email contact now, and I know that both of our lives have been shaped by the time she spent in my class.
John, Thanks for sharing your touching memories of Miss Robinson! She sounds like one of the many wonderful teachers who truly make a difference in their young students’ lives. I’m sorry to hear about your first grade teacher. It’s good to hear that you were a teacher who allowed your students to listen to their bodies — a basic and important reflection of respect.
All the best,
Flora: Thanks for your comments. We don’t know how much of a difference we make with our students. It is very affirming to see how they have grown!
Thanks, Christine. We learn from our teachers – whether there were positive or negative experiences in their classrooms.
Thanks, Sherri. Yes, it was quite an enjoyable phone call with Miss Robinson after 46 years. The emotion of “elevation” at its best.
What a nice tribute to your teacher and also a wonderful reminder of the impact, negative and positive, we can have on children’s lives. One of my favorite things is hearing my kindergarten students ask on Friday if they can come to school on Saturday! I so hope that they keep that love for school, and it reminds me of the power of my words and my actions. I recently contacted a former high school English teacher of mine, who had well- prepared me for the rigors of college. He said that I “made his day!” with my call; I was so surprised at the details he remembered after 27 years. Thanks for the touching, insightful article.
Thanks for the thought-provoking article. While I appreciate your message that we learn valuable lessons from our teachers, both good and bad, I am struck with sadness at what you had to endure in first grade. I used to be a classroom teacher myself, and I know that mistakes happen by well-meaning teachers, usually because they are juggling so many balls at once. I don’t think, however, that we should dismiss the incredible power that a classroom teacher has in all of his or her students’ lives. This influence can make or break children’s lives and it’s important to help shape our educational system in ways that help teachers be as empathic and responsive as possible to their students.
Thanks, John! Great article! From a leadership standpoint, especially for public school systems, what is the take-away from the concensus that classroom teachers have an impact on children? I am afraid that, too often, the response is to mis-trust and attempt to “manage” teachers. What should it be? Trust. Respect. Let them collaborate to lead. Do professional development that actually seeks to develop the fundamental capacities of teachers, not training that seeks to control their behavior. I think the approach we’re taking at Flourshing Schools reflects these judgments. Glad to know you and to be working with you!