Friday, July 4, 2014

You Can’t Buy an Aztec Pyramid at Kmart!

You Can’t Buy an Aztec Pyramid at Kmart!

By Amber Counts

Of all the teachers who shaped me, for better or worse, there are a few I wish I could speak with now that I am an adult. I was fortunate enough to tell two of my favorites just how much they meant to me before they retired, and I’m still trying to track down my high school biology teacher, Mr. Reichle, though I fear he is no longer with us, to tell him how much his encouragement, expectations, and enthusiasm still mean to me. However, there is one teacher with whom I would have a very different conversation if given the chance.

            In Spanish I, we were asked to construct a cultural or architectural artifact from an ancient culture that once existed in a region that currently speaks Spanish. Inspired by their architecture, I decided to construct an Aztec pyramid. I studied pictures in encyclopedias and library books and bought supplies at the craft store with money I had earned babysitting.

            Based on careful research, I meticulously measured and cut the balsa wood and glued the pieces together to build a replica of the pyramid. Once dry and structurally sound, I sprayed the model with Fleck Stone – a new type of spray paint at the time, and not cheap by my standards – to make it look like stone. The results were pretty impressive, even up to the impossibly high standards I set for myself.

            The day came to turn in projects, and the first clue that things weren’t going to work out as they should came when my Spanish teacher laughed at me, in front of the entire class, for listing items like “X-acto knife” and “pencil” on my supply list. She had said to list everything we used, but clearly she didn’t really mean “everything.” After berating me in front of my peers, she gave me an “F” on my project.

            “I think you bought this,” she taunted me.

I had never spoken back to this hateful teacher, nor any teacher, before. Not even when she got mad at me because there wasn’t a close enough Spanish version of my name and I had to go with “Amalia” for class purposes. I just couldn’t stomach the injustice of this accusation.

“You can’t buy Aztec pyramids at Kmart! Where, exactly, am I supposed to have bought this?”

With a cold sneer spreading across her lips, she responded slowly and quietly. “Get out of my class, Amalia.”

And I did. I dropped Spanish, but that “F” remained on my report card.

When I think of my former teachers, good and bad, I try to make sure I take the best properties of each and mimic those traits in my own teaching style, but I also remember not to make my students feel the way that my Spanish teacher made me feel.

I always used to think that if I ran into my former Spanish teacher, I would stand up for myself in a way I couldn’t in my youth and tell her what miserable person she is. But now, I would thank her, for she taught me valuable lessons about what kind of teacher I want to be, and I never doubt that my students are capable of impressive feats. I never forget that I am their advocate.

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