My turn

Human interaction is the key to becoming a memorable teacher

2013-08-25T00:00:00Z Human interaction is the key to becoming a memorable teacherBy Bill Vargo Times Columnist
August 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

After so many years out of school, I still remember scenes from grade school.

We had a sixth-grade science teacher at Eldon Ready Elementary School who was a World War II veteran. Mr. Daniels would talk to you about his time in the Pacific if you brought the subject up to him outside of class.

He was a stickler for routine and, particularly, science. Mr. Daniels must have felt bad for me because as awful as I was in science, he considered me all right in spite of my 'D' average.

Unfortunately, I never got to see him after grade school and he passed away sometime in the late 1980s.

It has been over 35 years, but I am sure that Mrs. Chetnik is still teaching. The last we heard from her she moved to the northern part of Wisconsin. She was one of those rare breed of teachers who can handle the wilder boys.

She had her hands full with the group she was given back in the mid- to late-1970s. That would explain why Mr. Daniels kept a large paddle in his classroom, a subtle reminder that the sheriff was in town and justice might be served at any moment.

This all came flooding back to me last week when I found the obituary for Alice Malsch, formerly of Griffith. Really, she lived right across the street from Ready Elementary School in a little brick home.

When I found out that she was 67 at her death, I did some quick math, which would have made her proud of me since she was my fifth-grade math teacher. Anyway, my math revealed that she was 29 as my teacher.

We had a bad habit of pronouncing our zeroes as O’s. So, we would say six-o-one when sounding out our numbers. This would get the quick retort that " 'O' is not a number, zero, however, is."

While some of the kids around me would roll their eyes at Malsch’s idiosyncrasies, I sort of admired the fact that someone would hold us to a standard and not allow us to get sloppy.

Miss Malsch instilled rigor into the math process. Keep your numbers lined up, show your work and write neat. To think that she had to endure another 30 years after I left grade school, I’m not sure if I could have done that.

Years later, when a college professor extolled on the value of interactions with our students, I rolled my eyes. I was interested in teaching history. What did it matter what tone of voice I used or whether my body movements sent conflicting signals.

It wasn’t until I was in the classroom that I realized that the subject was almost secondary to the students. They wanted to know that you "got" them and wouldn’t roll over at the first sign of trouble.

I will guarantee you that Miss Malsch and Mr. Daniels didn’t roll over for anyone and you knew that they were in control. Now, when I correct my sons for saying "six-o-one" instead of "six-zero-one," it reminds me that those lessons are eternal, along with keeping your numbers lined up, showing your work and writing neatly.

Human interaction was the key. As good as my memory is, I cannot remember which concepts we were learning. But I know it was math, it was hard, and she kept us on task.

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