The Best Of: The Teacher Who Changed My Life

Originally Posted October 4, 2010

I was overwhelmed by the response to my Flex Day request to tweet or text me the name of the teacher who changed your life. I've received dozens and dozens of grateful, affirming messages like this one: "Dear Miss Cook. Thanks for being strict, demanding, fair and clear about your expectations. You were also loving and full of praise." We have created a lot of good karma for PCC by sending forth this wave of gratitude to our teachers.

A teacher affects eternity; s/he can never tell where his influence stops.
— ~Henry Adams

You all gave me a great idea for a book we could write together. No kidding. I was so struck by your response that it occurred to me that others would be as well. What if we followed up on our texts and each drafted an anecdote about the teacher who changed your life? Then we would work together to stitch them into a kind of chap book, or resource or gospel according to our great teachers. We could even ask our students to synthesize them and cull out the essential themes and lessons. Then we could give it the Pasadena City College signature by acknowledging our own great teachers here, perhaps by listing the winners of our annual Risser Outstanding Teacher award. This sounds like a great idea to me. Hey, who do I have to see around here to get some innovation funds? Oh, I think that's me!

Great teaching is the topic of topics these days. Our nation has been reforming schools since at least Dewey. If you read PCC's history you will learn that its very founding was a school reform effort and that we have had a couple of PCC presidents who have promoted a reform and even a radical agenda. Today of course books on school reform are as common as cookbooks. The recent tide of school reform has crested with the premiere last week of the new documentary movie, Waiting for Superman. Go see it. One can't fail to be moved by the parents and their children who are aching to win the lottery to enter a charter school.

Great teachers make great schools.

But my take on Superman is a bit different than the universal acclaim the film is receiving. For me the film is not so much about school reform as it is about the heartbreaking failure of our school system. A school and a school system are two different things. I don't concern myself much these days with reforming systems, but I do know how to make a school better and this wisdom came from you last week: Great teachers make great schools. What any college must do is strive to identify and support its great teachers. And then work really hard with the majority of us who are pretty good to become great. My job is not to fix anything. My job is to help our teachers by getting "our system" out of your way.

Superman ain't going to show up. Superman is already here. S/he filled Sexson Auditorium last Flex Day.

You are the Superman we've been waiting for.

In hope and heart, Mark