In this blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, & other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo



Larry Ferlazzo is an English & social studies teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif.

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Editor’s Note: As I wrote in Part One, our minds are obviously on COVID-19, not on our favorite teachers. I’ve curated many useful resources about coping with school closures at The Best Advice On Teaching K-12 Online (If We Have to Because Of The Coronavirus) - Please Make More Suggestions! và will soon be publishing a series of posts here where teachers will be sharing their experiences in this new environment (see bởi You Want lớn Write About Your Experience Teaching Online After School Closures?). Please consider contributing your thoughts.

In this time of crisis, reading & thinking about non-coronavirus topics can be a welcome diversion now and then. I put thinking about & reading about our favorite teachers into that “welcome diversion” category.

(This is the second post in a multipart series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

Who was your favorite teacher when you were attending school, and why was she/he your favorite?

Part One shared responses from Elizabeth Villanueva, Jessica Levine, Betty Cárdenas, and Jenny Vo. You can listen lớn a 10-minute conversation I had with the four of them on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a menu of, and link to, previous shows here.

Today, Antoinette Perez, Cindy Garcia, Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski, Shaeley Santiago, Rita Platt, Jen Schwanke, và Barry Saide offer their memories.

“Words of affirmation”

Antoinette Perez is currently a high school ELA và ELD teacher at Buena High School in Ventura, Calif. She also works as a language và cultural instructor khổng lồ adult ELLs. She enjoys cooking, watching baseball, và traveling around the world to visit her former international students:

As educators, we tend to lớn think back & reflect on the teachers who made a difference in our lives. Some of those teachers pushed us to bởi our best and some of them were powerful enough to make us believe we could vì anything. I can remember quite a few teachers who had a gift for teaching & continue lớn influence my instruction today.

My favorite teacher & one who made all the difference in both my personal life và in my career was my 7th grade reading-intervention teacher. Like many adolescents, I wasn’t fond of reading, mostly because I couldn’t relate to lớn the stories we read or understand many of the concepts we read about. I struggled & I fell behind grade level in reading. Much khổng lồ my dismay, I was pulled out of my English class a few days each week lớn complete a reading-intervention program with Mrs. Gustafson. I remember her classroom being comfortable, welcoming, & safe. Và Mrs. Gustafson was all of those things, too. She created engaging lessons that helped me access complex concepts and make connections. She created a learning environment where taking risks was encouraged. No matter how wrong I was at times, she gave me credit for trying. Her words of affirmation showed me that she believed in me. She rewarded what I did well. I learned khổng lồ love my small-group instruction because it catered lớn my individual needs. Mrs. Gustafson saw me as an individual rather than as a number. She cared, và it showed. I knew that I wanted khổng lồ be like her & one day make a difference in students’ lives.

It’s not too often we get khổng lồ thank our favorite teachers for what they’ve taught us, but it’s less often that we get to lớn learn from them for longer than one school year. I consider myself fortunate to have had the chance to lớn be a student of Mrs. Gustafson’s once again more than 10 years after she first opened my eyes khổng lồ the true gift of teaching. In the final semester of my teacher-credential program, I went out on a limb và registered for a course instructed by a familiar name: Shelley Gustafson. I thought it could just be a coincidence that two people in Long Beach, Calif. Had the same name, but I was hopeful. Và when I walked into that classroom to a familiar face, I knew I was getting in khổng lồ the right profession. Fighting back the tears, I began khổng lồ tell her who I was when she interrupted, “Nettie, I remember you!” I thanked her for believing in me, for inspiring me to continue learning, & for showing me that teaching is a gift that keeps on giving. Much of who I am as a teacher today stems from both what I learned from Mrs. Gustafson trăng tròn years ago as a middle schooler and almost a decade ago as a teacher-in-the-making.


CindyGarciaTX và on her blog:

When I think about Ms. Anita Moore, I always smile and think about how fortunate I waas that she was my 4th & 5th grade teacher. It was evident even to a 9-year-old that Ms. Moore loved being a teacher. She had high structures in her classroom, but it was a safe place where we were encouraged lớn share, think, & express ourselves. All of her students knew that she cared about us learning & our well-being. Ms. Moore never let us give up if we were stuck, and she worked with us until we figured out a solution.

One of the memories that always stuck with me was Ms. Moore conducting a read-aloud & starting to cry because the main character in the story reminded her of her grandmother. She paused to nói qua about her relationship with her grandmother and made the connection as lớn how that relationship was helping understand the main messages in the story.

Ms. Moore tried her best lớn make a connection with each student in her classroom. She knew what are interests were & about our families. She used that information to lớn bring our interests into the classroom. One of the biggest reasons that Ms. Moore will always be my favorite teacher is because she helped my love of reading grow. She made books of various genres available in our classroom và to take home. She suggested books that she thought we would enjoy, và today I realize that it was books that she hoped would get us hooked!

Ms. Moore also went beyond classroom instruction. She decided that our school should have a choir & that all of her students should audition. If not for her initiative, I would never have participated in this type of extracurricular activity. She was known to lớn drive alongside students as they walked trang chủ if they were walking home alone & their homes were a bit too far from school. When it was time for the annual 5th grade weekend camping trip, my parents refused khổng lồ let me attend the trip. Ms. Moore came lớn my trang chủ to talk khổng lồ my parents lớn persuade them lớn let me attend. I was still not allowed to lớn go, but it was amazing khổng lồ me that a teacher would visit my home in order to help me be part of a school tradition và take part in the experience with my classmates. Ms. Moore was a wonderful example of a caring teacher who worked very hard khổng lồ help her students learn & feel successful.


“He made me see things about myself that I never realized”

Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski is a 3rd grade teacher in Farmingdale, N.Y. She previously taught 6th grade & kindergarten. Kathleen is one of the co-authors of the Two Writing Teachers and the co-director of the Long Island Writing Project. She blogs at Courage Doesn’t Always Roar:

I’ve had so many wonderful teachers through the years that have helped shape my life. One teacher who especially stands out in my memory was Mr. Patrick Gallagher. Mr. Gallagher was my AP U.S. History teacher in high school, và he was also one of the advisers of Key Club, a service club in which I was a thành viên and an officer.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Though Mr. Gallagher was my teacher over đôi mươi years ago, I remember that he made me feel lượt thích I was special. He made me see things about myself that I never realized. He encouraged me as a student leader and told me that he saw me as an inclusive person who always tried khổng lồ welcome others into a situation. He showed that he believed in me, and I wanted khổng lồ live up lớn his good opinion of me.

On days when I feel a little lost or low, I still pull out the letter of recommendation he wrote on my behalf for a scholarship for which I applied. It’s been so many years, but those words have the power to make me once again feel worthy và capable.

From Mr. Gallagher, I learned lớn shine a light on students’ strengths and help them see the special qualities they might not know they have. I look for ways lớn tell students all the good I see in them, in writing, so they, too, can look back someday and remember that a teacher saw in them a bright student with so much potential.


At the beginning of the school year, Mrs. Best asked us khổng lồ decorate the name tags for our desks. She provided the parameters for the assignment but left the specifics up lớn us. Unlike most of my classmates, I decided on an elaborate pattern where each letter of my name was colored differently from the next. I wasn’t discouraged from this unusual approach or forced lớn rush to lớn complete my work. Instead, Mrs. Best encouraged my creativity on a type of task that today might be viewed as a waste of valuable classroom time. In any case, the project allowed me khổng lồ explore an idea I had while helping Mrs. Best get khổng lồ know me better.

One of my all-time favorite units in school was a multiweek social studies simulation in Mrs. Best’s class about settlers moving khổng lồ the Midwest. We drew a card to be assigned our “family” và its circumstances. Then each day in class, someone would roll the dice to determine the weather và other daily events in the simulation. We had lớn make choices ranging from buying food lớn upgrading our property. My family was the deJongs, & we farmed a small acreage just outside of town. While I knew a little about farming because my grandparents were wheat farmers, the responsibility of making choices for my “family” & then experiencing the simulated consequences of those decisions over time taught me some valuable life lessons. We also learned about how a community might work together to support each other through difficulties such as natural disasters.

I also still vividly remember Mrs. Best incorporating drawing as a method for helping us develop the lesser-used hemisphere of our brains. She had taken a course where she’d learned about the technique, so she explained some of the research behind it to lớn us. Then she asked us lớn draw with our nondominant hand. We did activities lượt thích this several times during the school year. Looking back now through my own lens as a teacher, I admire that she was applying what she had learned from her course. As her student, I knew from her own efforts to lớn improve and her explanation about why we were doing what we were that she had my best interests at heart.

Mrs. Best also advocated for me lớn be evaluated for the gifted program. She had seen qualities in me that suggested I would benefit from opportunities for extended learning. Although my standardized-test scores weren’t high enough lớn automatically qualify me for the program, she still argued that I should participate with another student from my class. Her belief in me và my abilities was a boost for my self-confidence at a time when adolescence and all its awkwardness was fast approaching.

Although I had no plans at that point in my life khổng lồ be an educator, Mrs. Best’s approach lớn teaching has had an impact on my beliefs about chất lượng instruction. I believe strongly that engaging students through creative, real-world activities and choice in assignments is essential for maximizing learning. I also strive to stay current in my teaching practice by applying the techniques & research I learn about through professional development. Finally, my path in middle and high school was directly impacted because Mrs. Best advocated on my behalf for access to lớn the gifted program. As her name so aptly conveys, she was my best teacher.

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ritaplatt) is a national-board-certified teacher and a proud #EduDork! Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergartner lớn graduate student. She is currently the principal of St. Croix Falls & Dresser Elementary Schools in Wisconsin, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, và writes for MiddleWeb:

My 10th grade driver’s education teacher wore her hair in a curly puff. She wore bright pink lipstick, colorful scarves, mini skirts with rainboots, and was never without a smile. At the start of class, she stood by the door & welcomed her students. When the hour was up, she stood by the door và said goodbye with this line, “Have a great day! If you ever want to lớn hang out, stop by! I always have hot tea và oranges ready for a visit!” My 10th grade driver’s education teacher’s name was Rita Refner. Mrs. Refner was (is?) wonderful.

Over the years, I have often reflected on why I loved Mrs. Refner so much và why her class (driver’s ed, of all things!) inspired me lớn become an educator. In the end, I think it boils down to lớn how she carried herself and how she treated me.

Mrs. Refner embodied some the character traits that I now recognize as aligned with my own bộ vi xử lý core values. She was nonjudgmental, friendly, funny, encouraging, và completely & totally comfortable with herself.

When I met her, I was what we called, an “Ash Streeter.” It was 1983, and at that time, students were allowed khổng lồ smoke outside of the school, và I was often found on the front steps of the Ash Street entrance of the high school with a cigarette in hand. In those days (and now, if I’m honest), I marched to lớn the beat of my own drum. I dressed different from other kids (think June Cleaver but with neon pink pumps and punkish blond streaks in đen hair.) I skipped classes as frequently as I attended them, & my grades were low. But, I was kind lớn others, reasonably smart, và liked to lớn laugh. Mrs. Refner saw that. She treated me with a respect that I wasn’t used lớn from teachers, & I reveled in it.

Mrs. Refner wasn’t joking about the tea và oranges. I know because I often stayed after class to hang out with her over a cup of chamomile and half an orange. We chatted about all kinds of things & found out we had much in common. Chief among them was that we had both suffered from the behavior of people who were alcoholics. Mrs. Refner had lost her husband when a drunk driver crashed into his car, and I was raised by alcohol- and drug-addicted parents who often fell short in the good-parenting department. The combination of her friendly, kind, and nonjudgmental manner allowed me to mở cửa up to lớn her in a way I had never opened up before.

Once I opened up, Mrs. Refner encouraged me to lớn use my experiences to reach out and make a difference for others. She encouraged me lớn attend Alateen, a tư vấn group for teenagers who are affected by alcoholism. When that didn’t feel like a good fit for me, together we devised a plan to develop and coordinate a Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) club in the high school. Being a part of that club helped me learn that I was a capable leader & my efforts could help others.

When I think of Mrs. Refner, what stands out most clearly was her willingness lớn be unapologetically herself. Mrs. Refner put on no airs, showed no pretense, had no need khổng lồ be “normal.” She, lượt thích me, was different and she wore her differences lượt thích a name tag that said, “I’m ME! And, you will like me!” What a powerful example she was.

More than 30 years after I met her, I still think of her often & am grateful for the gifts she gave me. I don’t smoke anymore, và there is no Ash Street entrance at the school where I am the principal. But I vì wear that invisible name tag that says, “I am ME!” and I work daily lớn be as nonjudgmental, kind, funny, encouraging, và completely comfortable in my own skin. Thank you, Mrs. Refner.

Trauma should not be a “lonely” thing

Ms. Jen Schwanke has served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary và middle school levels for trăng tròn years. She has established her voice in school leadership by contributing frequently khổng lồ literacy and leadership publications and has presented at multiple conferences at the state và national level. She is the author of the book, You’re the Principal! Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, published by ASCD:

The year I entered 3rd grade, my parents’ farm was in the grips of a drought that dried up the entire Midwest. My father’s xuất xắc crop withered & died. With no tốt to sell, there was no money. With no money, there was no food. We were a family of six. I was very hungry for quite some time.

My father grew sullen và silent, my mother sad and defiant. Though it would be many painful years before they would finally divorce, the drought years were the worst because the farmhouse seemed lớn be waiting for something—thunder, lightning, heavy rain, a big fight, something to happen.

As kids do, I soldiered on, not having words or systems khổng lồ manage anything otherwise. My sisters reacted similarly. We did not discuss it. At the dinner table, we gulped at my mother’s home-canned green beans, supplemented with fruit cocktail from Dollar General. We dipped saltines in water, better lớn swallow with our choked throats. When school started, I packed three apples for lunch every day, because there were plenty in the cellar: towers of bushel boxes full of Macintosh, bought at the Bargain Bin for a song. Kids made fun of me in the cafeteria, and I hissed at them: “Shut up. It’s just that I love apples.”

Early in November, Miss Troutman pulled me aside. She gave me two gifts. The first was a đam mê sandwich. The second was a journal.

I don’t know how she knew. Perhaps it was my bony legs and dirty, too-short jeans. Perhaps she saw the apples. Maybe she just guessed. Regardless, she found a way to lớn help without humiliating me or making me talk about my breaking heart. She offered dignity and kindness that still makes me swoon with gratitude. “Silly me,” she said. “I accidentally made an extra sandwich this morning.”

With it, she handed me a beautiful black leather journal, thick with pages of unlined trắng paper. “You don’t need lớn show it to me as you write. It can be private. Your very own.” I’d long wanted khổng lồ journal but didn’t have a special place to vị it. When there is no money for ground beef, there is certainly no money for journals. I took it home and began experimenting as a poet, a writer, an artist, a dreamer&mdasdh;a little person who could imagine a better ending lớn the story.

Miss Troutman made many accidental sandwiches that year, fluffy white Wonder Bread stuffed with chipped ham và slathered with delicious, oily mayonnaise. She would slip it into my lunch box when no one was looking.

These days, we are discussing children và trauma more openly và honestly. We are legitimizing how it feels lớn be a very young person who is scared, sad, sorry, & ashamed, a young person who still has lớn get up và wash her face & get on the school bus. We recognize trauma takes many forms—hunger, abandonment, physical pain, loneliness, fear, racism, và all sorts of other horrible, painful things—and kids all feel it và react, differently. Trauma is not, & should not be, a lonely and secretive thing. People—kids—often want to deal with it alone, but they may need someone khổng lồ notice, & teachers are often the ones to vì chưng just that.

Facebook recently reconnected Miss Troutman and I; in a private message, I thanked her for her kindness. She was gracious, humble, & gentle, just as I remembered her. “It’s rare that I can still see the 10-year-old in the face of one of my students,” she wrote, “But I can see your young self in your pictures. Except I see peace and confidence now. I’m glad about that.”

“A daily structure”

Barry Saide is the proud principal of Roosevelt School, in Manville, N.J. Prior to lớn becoming principal, Barry was a director of curriculum & instruction, supervisor of curriculum và instruction, và elementary classroom teacher. This is his 20th year in education:

My favorite teacher when attending school was my elementary school teacher Mrs. Pace. She looped with us from 3rd through 5th grades. Her consistent presence và approach each day provided comfort for me. I was an anxious learner, uncomfortable with change, và quiet in disposition. Rarely did I raise my hand, offer a suggestion, or ask a question. I didn’t want to lớn stand out in any way possible. I would rather sit there, potentially soak all the learning in, và hope that if I didn’t understand something that one of my peers would ask that question. If one didn’t, I would go home and count on my mother or father khổng lồ assist me. If that didn’t happen, I didn’t learn it.

Though I was quiet and painfully shy (on a 1 khổng lồ 10 scale I was an 11), because Mrs. Pace provided a daily structure, reviewed the classroom expectations each day, solicited đầu vào from us to lớn build future lessons and units, và got khổng lồ know us individually, I was able khổng lồ grow beyond my own self-imposed limitations. Mrs. Pace spent a portion of each day with each of us, reviewing what our accomplishments were và setting our goals for the following day. She knew I was a strong writer, avid reader, and struggling mathematician. She built opportunities within lessons for me to lớn read aloud my free-writes và favorite reading passages và others to tóm tắt their strengths, too. When I became a teacher, I realized she did this khổng lồ foster a community of learners—students who would feel comfortable knowing their peers were a resource they could go to lớn when they needed support, suggestion, or guidance on a topic. That communal, inclusive feeling was the overarching goal I created each year in the classroom when I became a teacher.

My formative years with Mrs. Pace as my teacher taught me many of the concepts within my philosophical approach to human-centered education I used as a teacher. Now as an administrator: getting to know each individual, coaching people from their strengths, continually raising expectations slightly based on prior accomplishments (and providing the support to achieve those expectations), và accepting every person for who they are by seeing who they could be with tư vấn and guidance is who I strive lớn be. Without my 3rd through 5th grade years, that doesn’t happen.


Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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