My grade school days are kind of a blur at this point, which is probably a good thing. I don’t remember many of my teachers, classes, lessons, peers… I can’t tell if that’s just a bad memory or if so much of it simply had no lasting impact. In any case, there are a few things that do stand out, things said by my teachers which have stuck with me to this day. Here are the first three that come to mind:
“Anyone can make a face.”
I was in art classes throughout grade school. I probably shouldn’t have been. I could draw Sonic the Hedgehog and his friends, but that’s about it. None of the stuff they tried to teach us stuck with me, and I couldn’t care less about art history. I remember working with clay in middle school, making a number of pieces that were to be part of a collection. Some of those pieces were faces, or face-like. My art teacher (who is a cool guy and would probably be devastated to know this is the first thing I recall when I think of him) was giving us a mini-lecture about needing to really stretch our creativity and try new things. He picked up a ball of clay, poked three holes in it, and said “see, anyone can make a face.” It was clearly in reference to my rather pathetic project because, well, it looked exactly the same. What I don’t know is why I was singled out like that.
Art was already on life support for me. I think that did it in.
Years later, in high school (I kept taking art classes, probably just for the credits), I had a truly awful troll of an art teacher. One time, she looked at something I had been drawing — and yes, it was indeed bad — and uttered “ugh, Grossman… gross!” Thanks, you old sow. Thanks so much for that.
My first-grade homeroom teacher made it a point on one of the first days of class to pull us all together and teach us about slumping over in one’s chair. Or slouching. I don’t remember which word she used, but she gave a demonstration and asked “have you ever seen an old person sit in a chair like this?” at which point she crumpled like a doll. “You don’t want to end up like that! Make sure to always sit up straight, because it’s hard to fix this once the damage is done!” Right she was. Unfortunately, since I’m at a desktop computer so much… well, yeah.
“We’re all inventors.”
A total dark horse candidate for things I’d remember from way-back-when, but this made an impact. I wish I could recall who said it to us. The details and context escape me, but the idea was that you don’t have to be creating new technologies to call yourself an inventor. Even as dumpy little students, choosing how to carry our textbooks and binders was an act of creation; we were all inventing when we did that.
We invent when we come up with creative ways to solve little problems at work; when we decorate our homes; when we decide who we are and how we’re going to act. That is, perhaps, unless you don’t have an ounce of existentialism in your body and you simply allow your animal instincts to carry you from one thing to the next. Those people are great fun to deal with.
In closing, teachers: your words, even your off-handed little remarks, can have a profound impact on your students. Be very mindful of what you say around them.