Teaching and Reaching

By Jeanette Schmoyer

I knew in 6th grade that I wanted to be an English teacher. I could have had no way of knowing then the adventures I would have along that path. I loved books. I loved poetry. My parents and the elementary school encouraged reading books and memorizing and reciting poetry. In 6th grade we were exposed to diagraming sentences and I was fascinated with the process of organizing sentences in a systematic visual image.

I have come to understand that most students think it is weird to love diagraming sentences, but for me it was the final building block in my young life in deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up. Later, as a teacher, I found that diagraming often did help students understand how to better write complete and interesting sentences.

I went to a one-room school for grades 1 through 6. Our teacher for the first five years was like a second mother to us. On the cold winter mornings, she read to us while we gathered around a pot belly stove in the middle of the room waiting for the room to warm up. I still remember her reading Hans Christian Anderson’s Silver Skates one winter. I enjoyed the programs our school put on for our parents, especially the year we did an operetta, “Down Among the Fairies.” My mother sewed the fairy costumes and we got to sing and dance. In my 6th grade we got a new teacher. She was not the motherly type, but she was the one who introduced me to diagraming sentences.

My teachers through the years gave me a rich background for my intended career and never discourage my ambition to be a teacher in spite of my vision limitations. I came to love the theater and acted in many plays and as an adult directed many plays including the junior and senior high school plays where I was teaching.

But the path from the decision in 6th grade to becoming a teacher was not always smooth. By 10th grade I had been diagnosed with Juvenile Macular Degeneration, was “legally” blind (20/200 vision) and was using 18% transmission sunglasses in the classroom to eliminate some of the ambient light because my eyes no longer processed images well in bright light.

I successfully used those sunglasses through high school and college but was concerned about teaching high school students while wearing sunglasses. It might make it more difficult for me to establish credibility if the students perceived that they could get away with more because their teacher did not see perfectly. I was able to get hard contacts tinted black, the same darkness as the sunglasses I had been wearing. I also had the maintenance man cover the fluorescent light above my desk with brown wrapping paper which further decreased the bright light.

I felt confident about teaching. I knew my subject well thanks to all my teachers and professors along the way. I had a rich background in literature and grammar. Next I had to develop the relationships with and gain the respect of students so I could reach them where they were and give them the tools I had been given. No teacher can reach every student perfectly, and I am sure I did not either, but the rewards have been so wonderful.

One student came to my home after he graduated and had joined the military just to thank me for the foundation I had given him for discipline in learning. Another lackadaisical student changed his ways by no longer sleeping through classes and raised his grades just so he could qualify to try out for the class play. This past Christmas, years after leaving the teaching profession, I received a book published by a former student who mentions me in the Dedication in the book as her teacher who always encouraged her to express herself and states in the dedication, “She is still and always will be a valued friend in my life.” All the study and hard work to become a teacher are confirmed as well worth it! So if you are considering becoming a teacher, first get a really good foundation in your subject material; then make your goal to reach students to make a difference in their lives, and you will be a success and honored by your students.

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