Blog: People with a lot of class

Blog: People with a lot of class


When I started fishing for blog topics for this 40-day Lent challenge, one that was suggested to me was to talk about my most influential teacher(s).

I've been thinking about that, particularly since I was asked back to teach another round of "Writing for Media" at Oregon State University this term. I am forever grateful to all the teachers in my life, but as for the most influential, I'm finding that surprisingly hard to answer.

It's easy to say that the most influential teachers in my life have always been my parents, because both are retired educators, so that works on both levels.

I wasn't in my mother's preschool - she started there when I was much older - but in a way, I was one of her practice students.

I was in my father's classes for first- and second-year German and for sophomore and senior English at Newport High School. He also read (and corrected) most of my assignments all the way through my school years.

My parents are lifelong influences, certainly. But if we're talking about career influence, I have to look to my high school journalism adviser, Fran Caldwell, and my university professor, Dave Cassady. Both taught me the fundamentals of good reporting.

Fran taught me how to write a 30-word lede. Dave taught me how to avoid the "So What?" lede, how to use the word "entitled" properly, and, most important, to love the job, warts and all. I wouldn't be in this career without him.

But: If we're talking about influence in other ways, such as general life lessons or how to be a good teacher myself, I have different answers.

I was one of those kids the academic system was created to serve: the ones who sit quietly, read well, memorize what's delivered and regurgitate it back in good form on test day.

The first teacher to really hit me with any kind of challenge was my sophomore year biology teacher, Julie Life. She wanted us to take what we'd learned about life sciences and use that knowledge to say what would happen next. That really threw me, because I wasn't used to having to come up with an answer I hadn't memorized. I had to apply myself differently in that class, and that didn't come easily.

I also especially appreciate Diane Young, who taught my freshman English class at Pacific University and gave me the first B I'd ever had on an English essay in my life. I no longer remember why - maybe I didn't go into the topic with enough depth or support it to her satisfaction - but that, too, was unexpected. I learned coasting wouldn't be enough, even in a subject in which I'd always excelled.

I never enjoyed math, but I have a grudging admiration for Murv "Montana Fanna" Fanning, the high school math teacher who was so good at his job he made sure I knew both algebra and geometry whether I liked it or not.

I also give kudos to my fourth-grade teacher, Charl Mullins, who took each kid out for a Dairy Queen banana split as soon as he or she could pass a times table test. I wasn't big on times tables, but with ice cream at stake, I learned fast. I also learned even small bribes can gain a teacher big results.

I learned some lessons I hope never to repeat myself, like the time my fifth-grade teacher, who shall remain unnamed, chose me as a scapegoat to send out in the hall. She was struggling with a projector (remember those?) and we weren't being exactly quiet and well-behaved in the interim. And when she said, with what I thought was good humor in a tough situation, "Come on, guys, who's in charge here, you or me?" I took the softball and quipped right back, "We are."

"Jennifer, out in the hall," she snapped at me.

The class went absolutely silent with the horror of the Good Kid so treated, and I nearly fainted from shame. The Hall was just one step away from The Principal's Office, after all. I'd never been sent to either, ever.

She never recanted - just came out and read me the riot act while I sobbed, old as I was, cowering in her presence. I understand her frustration better these days, but I've never managed to forgive her for unapologetically taking it out on me.

I've already talked about the battle I had with my college physics professor ( I also went a few rounds with administrators in both high school and college through my early efforts at investigative stories on various school policies. I'm sure I made them wish the Founding Fathers had rethought that whole First Amendment idea.

Those are lessons I hope not to repeat for anyone looking to learn from me.

Mostly, however, the educators I knew all had the same inspirational things in common: they loved their subjects, they loved their students and they loved bringing the two things together.

Maybe that's why I can't think of many standouts: They all stand out, just for what they were able to do every day.

— Jennifer Moody did the best she could not to go into education, and instead ended up in a job where she's doing it anyway, only with less money and fewer benefits. Obviously, she still has a lot to learn.


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