Monday, October 31, 2011

who's the best teacher you ever saw?

If you are familiar with the movie The Right Stuff, you may be waiting for that arrogant reply of "yer lookin' at 'em". That is definitely not the case. I had a young student of mine ask me "who was the best teacher I ever had?" for our school's newspaper. I did not hesitate to reply with "Mr. Killian, my 5th grade teacher".

Every student should be lucky enough to recall an educator who changed their entire outlook on what it means to be a student. I had such a person in 1981 when I made the leap into the 5th grade at Greenwood Elementary in Altoona, Pa. Mr. Killian was simply born to educate and to inspire. He created an environment of competition which is considered a total NO-NO in the current classroom. If he could figure out a way to have us challenge each other and/or him, he did it. It worked. We rose to the daily challenges. We wanted to show him how well we could do. We bought into his plan with everything we had. I loved him and was anxious for the next school day. I love him to this day for what he gave me. He gave me an outlet for my competitiveness. He took my greatest fear (public speaking) and weakest subject (spelling) and had me excited about the pre-test challenges. We had to stand up in front of our classmates and spell. If we spelled the word correctly we were given a chance to throw a chalkboard eraser across the room and try and hit the trash can. He would begin the challenge by throwing the eraser himself and the class would have to beat the number of made baskets that he posted. It was fun. Learning spelling words, spelling them in front of my peers and tossing that eraser was huge fun. I worked so hard to know those words.

The elementary schools in the Altoona Area use to have an annual track meet. It was a big deal. To me, it was like the Olympics. Mr. Killian was our coach and we, of course, wanted him to be proud of our performance. We had an athletic group in our fifth grade. I was in the 4x100 relay with three extremely fast kids. I might have been the slowest in the group. Mr. Killian had us practice with a dandelion stem instead of the large plastic baton that we would eventually use in the race (yet another way to teach us in a way we would feel special and to breed confidence). That dandelion stem started out stiff and easy to pass but by the end of our practicing, it was flimsy and limp and very difficult to hand off at full speed. You really had to concentrate. He knew how to teach regardless of the task. I'm sure he was responsible in having us compete against the 6th graders. A pre-meet warm up. He wanted to show us off and he also wanted us to see how good we could be at the big event. We cruised by those sixth graders. We ran circles around them (literally) as we used the pavement around the oval median in front of Logan Junior High as our track. We were on top of the world. Greenwood went on to win the district track meet and again the following year as Logan Elementary (school consolidations). Though I competed in athletics in Junior and Senior high, the positive feelings were never quite as strong as they were with Mr. Killian as our leader. 

Mr. Killian will always be that "best teacher". Thanks Mr. Killian! If anyone knows him and sees him, tell him "Randy McKee says thank you".

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