Everyone has had a teacher that simply types up a power point every class period or assigns a chapter of notes and basically hold more of a day care center than a classroom. Everyone has had a teacher treat them like a child that cannot take care of themselves. Those are the teachers you’re glad to be rid of at the end of the year and soon forget as they years pass. Mrs. Schoenekase was never one of those teachers. I never learned as much about what I am and what I want to be as I learned in her class, and I will never forget her.
I believe in the power of involved teachers like Mrs. Schoenekase – teachers that mentor, not babysit. She was the first adult to ever give me the benefit of the doubt that I was mature enough to hold an adult conversation. In her class with the privilege of being treated as adults, she expected us to act like them. She expected us to examine our beliefs and our opinions to find out why we held them true to us. A simple, “I don’t know,” was not acceptable. She motivated us to look further, not through screaming or yelling like many teacher, but through challenging us. She challenged us not to simply go with the crowd or stick with our parents’ opinion simply “because,” but to form our own opinions based on our own observations and personal convictions.
I compare her to the character played by Robin Williams in the Dead Poet’s Society. Like Mr. Keating, Mrs. Schoenekase encouraged us to “seize the day” and go after our dreams like nothing else. Instead of discouraging a student that wanted to pursue a tough career such as becoming a guitarist or a professional skateboarder, she posed questions to cause them to examine why they wanted these things in order to figure out if they actually wanted them.
Instead of sheltering us from the references to sexuality or racism in books like Billy Budd Sailor or Huckleberry Finn, she challenged us to understand why the authors included these elements in their books.
The year my eighth grade class moved on to high school, Mrs. Schoenekase was criticized for her teaching style. I quite personally find that a ridiculous notion. We need more teachers like Mrs. Schoenekase, not less of them. The world is not a beautiful place; a teacher that truly cares about the future and well being of his or her students that takes the initiative to expose them to these things and do their job by teaching the children they influence the correct way to react and treat these situations. To shelter teenagers from reality steals their ability to grow into the adults they are expected to be in college and for the rest of their lives. Teachers can handle these topics with a degree of sensitivity without omitting them and pretending they aren’t there. By skipping the word “nigger” while reading a book aloud, you don’t make it disappear. In fact, you emphasize its position in the sentence. The racism in books like Huckleberry Finn shouldn’t be ignored; it should be learned from, to show us our past mistakes and prevent us from going back to them.
Mrs. Schoenekase touched the heart every student in my class that year, even those that are reluctant to admit it. I believe she changed the way every one of my classmates views the world. She taught each of us how to grow into adults.
Still to this day when I need help with anything from writing a research paper, to producing a portfolio, to solving personal issues with my friends, I call her. She’s always open, always honest, always teaching me something new about myself and the world I live in. She is one of the most wonderful and cherished influences in my life, and I hope I never lose touch with her.
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