‘I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.’ – Socrates

‘When one teaches one, two learn.’ – Robert Heinlein

‘Do or do not, there is no try’ – Yoda

Prompt: What inspired you to be a Teacher/Educator?

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Prompt: What inspired you to be a Teacher/Educator?

Honestly, I was sitting the Throttleman watch on my first boat poking holes on mission somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea and I made the decision that the Navy was not a long-term option for me. So I gave it a lot of time on that 6-hour watch about “What do I want to do in my life” and when it came down to it, I decided that I wanted to coach football. I was a pretty junior “Nuke” (my position/job in the Navy) so I wasn’t really respected for anything I did at the time Navy-wise, but people did seem to respect my knowledge of football. And, after all, I did take to it more as a student of the game than an athlete, because I was never really that physically talented anyway.

So, I thought, well, what would be my fastest means to be a football coach and, of course, it meant that I would have to be a Public School Teacher first, then just rise up through the coaching ranks in the schools. So when I made the decision to be a Teacher, I thought, what subject would I like to Teach, and as I had always liked my Science classes in school, I decided to be a Science Teacher.

Three plus years later, I got out of the Navy and started college singularly focused on being a Science Teacher for the sole purpose to coach football. It took 5 total years to earn my Biology Degree, and then another 2 years on top of that to get my Secondary Teacher Certification. Then I got my first position taking over for a Teacher who ran out the front door in a nervous breakdown at Lincoln High School (see my other blog post). As that school year went on I guess you could say that my heart got into it and I realized that I had a real position of influence to be able to actually help these kids, most of whom reminded me of the same kids that I had as friends growing up. And when I made the decision to use the platform of Science to also teach Leadership and proper decision-making, which is what these kids REALLY needed in life, any concepts in my mind to spend scarce time as a football coach seemed to have less and less meaning.

So, I never got around to that football coaching thing after all, but there is no loss there. I know I did my best and left everything I had for those kids and that community. And I’m okay with that.

Story about “M” at Lincoln High School

Story about “M” at Lincoln High School

The story Dr. Saenz told in the beginning was a very familiar one to me and touched me where it mattered. In my first year as a Teacher I took over for a Teacher in mid-October who had apparently had a nervous breakdown brought on by her students and she literally had walked right out of the front door in the middle of the school day. In fact, she left much of her materials and even personal things behind in the classroom. By the time my first class day happened, those students had been watching all of the VHS movies in the whole library for about a month.

For any other 1st year Teacher, looking back, I suppose it would have been a reason to never want to teach again, however, for me, it felt like home. Given that this high school was in the neighborhood that I grew up in in Tacoma, I knew the crowd very well and it felt like family. In fact, both my mother and father attended that high school back in the 60s. So when I stepped foot in that crazy classroom, I knew what these kids needed…they needed respect, kindness, and a person to lead them. So, from there on it was nothing but “please”, “thank you”, and “yes sir/yes mam” from me and the students were so surprised.

Having no teaching experience yet, and having no plan or even having no idea what the curriculum was, I adapted. I spotted the Periodic Table on the wall and immediately leapt into a discussion about it. That “lesson”, on that first day, became the centerpiece for all of my Science lessons in every year forward that I taught afterward.

So after suffering through that first school year, and learning so much about these students, teaching science, myself, and the broader community that I personally grew up in, I’m reminded of one student, such as what the presenter had focused on in the video, and we’ll call him “M”. M rarely came to class and when he did, he always came late. He never had any materials and didn’t seem to know what was ever going on. I had designed multiple science small-group based lessons throughout the year that had an increasing rate of student leadership and responsibility, as well as earned reward. So, by the end of the school year, there was a group project in which the students were exclusively grading each others’ groups. That is to say that I, as the Teacher, was not a party to any of the grading of these assignments and that only the students, following a classroom rubric for group presentations, were solely grading other students.

As one of the conditions for the group with regards to the highest earned grade. I told them that each student in that group would not just get the best grade in the class, but would ALSO get their final grade bumped up one full grade level. So if someone was getting a B then he/she would get an A, and if someone was getting a C then she/he would get a B and so on. And yes, that if someone had a failing E, that he/she would end up passing the class even if they had done no work whatsoever in that whole year.

So, to make a long story shorter, on the last day of school, I announced who the highest graded groups were and, low and behold, M’s group had earned the highest grade (again, with only the students’ grading mattering). Given the fact that it was the last day of school, all the students were having a fun time and running around the school in celebration getting their yearbooks signed, etc. So I was pretty much just telling kids their grades as they happened to randomly walk into my classroom. That meant that there was zero expectation for any student to come to class that day but only to find out which group had earned the grade bump. So when M came to class and sauntered up to me and asked what his grade was, I was therefore quite surprised. And when I told him that he happened to be in the group that had earned the highest grade in the class, and that by some miracle of fate, he passed the class, he JUMPED up in the air and cheered and yelled out “OH MY GOD, MR. WAMBOLDT YOU ARE MY FAVORITE TEACHER AND I LOVED YOUR CLASS THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!” and then he ran out and I never saw him again.

Moral of this story, and MEGA HUGE lesson for me as a Teacher….you never really know which one of your students who you, as their Teacher, will mean the most to in life.

– Mr. Widgets 😊