In all my years of education, from kindergarten through grad-school, the person who was most instrumental in helping me learn was Sylvia Butler, who I was fortunate to have for English in eighth and ninth grade, as well as in eleventh and twelfth grade. What made her stand out from the scores of teachers and professors I’ve had is that she inspired me to be use my strengths as a creative thinker and dreamer by helping me understand that education is not about grades or test scores, but making a life that is meaningful and nourishes learning. She allowed me to do things differently and to take creative risks by encouraging me to not worry about what grade I would earn. Instead, she motivated me to personalize my assignments and to draw upon my sense of humor, irony, and unique way of looking at a situation. When I entered college, on occasion I would have a teacher who would allow me to do this, but they were the extreme exception, and not the rule. Thus, my college years, while meaningful, did little to help me nurture my individuality. After graduating from college with a degree in accounting and working as a purchasing agent for three years, I decided to forgo that career, go back to college, and earn a degree in English because when I thought about my life, the only profession that had meaning for me, after much reflection, was teaching. While earning my English degree, she allowed me to teach her classes once a week for a year; however, this was not done through my university or her school district. Clearly she was operating outside of the norms for a student to teach her classes. Nonetheless, she wanted me to be sure that I truly wanted to teach, and she gave me her expertise as we planned what I would do each week, often allowing me to try new and creative things with her college-prep and honors students. In the process, I discovered that teaching was indeed the right profession for me. Due to her belief in me, I eventually became a dedicated student as I earned my degree in English and passed the National Board several years later. Sylvia Butler instilled in me the notion that I should never be willing to accept anything from myself that was less than my best. Moreover, she inspired me to do what I thought was best for my students, as well. In the twenty years I’ve been teaching English, this notion has carried me through and helped me to not give in to outside experts who want to replicate in every class what worked somewhere else, be it a class, school, or district. If we want teachers to make a difference in students’ lives and motivate them to be their best by using their strengths as unique individuals, then we must train more Sylvia Butlers in the world. In doing so, we will create generations of students who will want to learn because they love learning and not because of the goal of earning an “A” in a class or performing in the 90th percentile on a standardized test designed by an educational expert.

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