A Message to Teachers - Even Great Teachers Kick Trash Cans Sometimes

In the last few months I've joined two alumni groups on facebook that have popped up on my feed: one for my high school and one for my college years. The college group, with over 14,000 members has been especially active lately. Former UCSB alumni that graduated between 1995 and 2002, who are now in their 40's, reminisce about the magical time they lived, played and occasionally studied on the cliffs above the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The two groups have similarities and differences - a thread on the high school groups asks where you ate lunch, while the college thread will ask where you drank beer. What a difference four years makes. Often alumni in both groups will post about an experience, a class, or a teacher that had an impact on their lives and is reflecting 25 years later. As a former teacher myself, who spent ten years in the classroom, I'm instantly reminded of the powerful impact teachers have on their students. A few weeks ago in my high school alumni group someone posted, "Anyone remember Dr. Hoffman (AP Psych and Spanish, I think)? He was such an extraordinary teacher." What followed was comment after comment from students that had him 25, 30, even 35 years ago describing how much he impacted their lives. I was influenced by Dr. Hoffman not only as a student, but also as a teacher. When I started teaching psychology, he was an enormous help. I knew I had to tag him on the post so that he could see all the love and appreciation directed at him. Here are some of the comments about Dr. Hoffman: - My first day of Spanish 1 he wore his "sliding shoes." He asked someone to hold the door open and he went out into the hall, started sprinting and came in sliding halfway across the room. I knew it was going to be a good year. - "Is this a rubber chicken!!?" Best pep rally leader we had. - I wound up getting a doctorate in psychology and now have my own clinical practice. He without a doubt made an impact. - I had him for AP psych - he sparked much interest in my young mind. - Anyone remember doing the hustle in class? - Best teacher I ever met. - He taught me a lot, even during seemingly tangential conversations...It was the beginning of my political consciousness, I think, without being explicitly political. And I remember his dislike of the headphone-wearing, music-loving joggers and runners at the beach. He would say "Can't they just listen to the beauty of the ocean or the regular sounds of the streets, the sounds surrounding them?" When I go for a run with headphones and music, I have this nagging voice inside telling me to just be present, to ditch the music, and to take in the surrounding world! HA! - One of my favorite memories is Andrew singing cielito lindo off key rather loudly while you played the guitar in spanish class. The singing at the end of spanish class was always a highlight of my day. - You were my most favorite Capo teacher. I always enjoyed your passion of teaching. - The Hustle was epic. You were an inspirational teacher. - OMG!!! Dr. Hoffman. I was just talking about you - I discovered my love of history from your class as a Sophomore. - The LA train tour was the best. Would love to do it again. - Awww!! Mr. Hoffman! You were my Academic Decathlon coach

- I’m almost at 30 years as an educator. Class of ‘89. I think I can still repeat most of the LA train tour. I learned A LOT from you. - You were such an engaging and kind teacher. I am a teacher now myself too. - I loved the LA walking tour field trip. I would love to do that again when you're up and running. My love of architecture stemmed from the trip and I always tell people I am with to, "look up!" - I was class of '96 and loved my zero period economics. I was back a few years later at a play and thanked you for your contributions! Glad so many people had the same experience and are here to tell you how you impacted their lives. - To this day, I recall things I learned in your AP Psych class. You were one of the best. I recall fondly all the CRY club meetings in your classroom, too. So great to reconnect here! - What a great opportunity here to reflect and tell you how impactful you were on my development as a person. You expected a lot, but as if you knew we could do it, as long as we worked for it. The lessons were incredible. I probably held onto that information longer in life than maybe any class ever. You prepared us extremely well for the AP test and as I transitioned into Psychology in college, Psych was my first major specifically because of the experience I had in your class.

- On a personal level, I had a challenging childhood and the atmosphere growing up down the hill from Capo was pretty rough during those times. I can say that things I learned in your class gave me tools to reconcile, mature, and eventually dig myself out if it multiple times in life.

------- So...to all you teachers out there... Do you want to know what students remember 25 years after your class? It's your enthusiasm. It's the encouragement. It's the fun. It's the silliness. It's the guitar playing at the end of class. It's leading the chants at the pep rally's. It's how the curriculum related to them and their world. It's the field trip that exposed them to new and exciting things. It's the way you made them think in a way they never had before. It's your passion for a subject that rubbed off on them. It's showing students how to excel at your job, how to treat people, or how to deal with their emotions. It's the seemingly insignificant comment about the way you lived your life that stuck with them years later:

"Always look up and enjoy your surroundings", and "Just be present and ditch the headphones on your run." In my own case, when as a teacher I was complaining to Dr. Hoffman about all the grading I had to do and he said, "I look forward to the opportunity to give feedback to my students." He reminded me it's not just piles of grading but an opportunity to give important feedback to your students. A simple shift in thinking reminds us of the importance of what we are doing. Teaching can be an arduous and thankless task. Often it's not without great frustrations. On a recent phone call, Dr. Hoffman told me how he lost it one day at school and kicked a trash can. I immediately laughed on the phone, picturing this legendary and highly disciplined teacher kicking a trash can out of frustration. That is until I didn't hear laughing on the other end, that's when I stopped, and he told me he's convinced the arthritis in his toe was the result of that incident. Look, we all get frustrated. Even great teachers lose it sometimes. But, 25 years later, when the details about specific lessons are erased, what the students DO remember is the way you live your life. And the way you made them feel. And, for Dr. Hoffman, the way he continues to make people feel. When I logged back into facebook the next day, I noticed Dr. Hoffman had taken the time to reply to all of the comments left by his former students. Twenty five years later he's still giving that all important feedback to his students by letting them know they matter with a word of encouragement. "Yes, those were wonderful days. I remember your passion and commitment too." Or "Wonderful that you're helping so many people." In this, the most difficult year teachers have faced in a century, just a friendly reminder that it's okay to kick trash cans every once in awhile.


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