Glass Half Full: In praise of teachers who make a difference |

Glass Half Full: In praise of teachers who make a difference

Ruth Glass

Every year as a new school term begins, my mind fills with memories of teachers who made a difference to the student me.

I have always been fortunate on that score: While I had my share of weak and/or disinterested teachers, most were solid and more than a few were spectacular. My Master’s Practicum, entitled, “The Difference We Make in the Live of Adolescent Girls,” spoke about the need for girls, especially, to feel connected to teachers in order to learn best.

Boys, it appears, are better able to blame the teacher for a lack of connection; girls blame themselves. The fact is, we all respond best and are most receptive to those who recognize us as individuals and respect us as such.

Good teachers, really good teachers, understand and appreciate the quirks of all students and figure out the ways best to motivate each. If we are lucky, we continue to encounter good teachers throughout our lives.

Suzanna Beck, or “Becky,” as she was known to her students welcomed us through the doors of kindergarten. My memory drawer is filled with painting, drama, laughter, and, yes, occasional misconduct.

My two best friends and I, Woody and Nelson, got in trouble for climbing on the roof and throwing pebbles across to a neighboring classroom. I have no idea who thought of it or how we got there.

What we all three remember is Becky’s disappointment in us. She talked to us about personal choice and responsibility. Becky and I climbed the Grand Teton when she was 60 and I was 16 — still making a difference.

Robert Townsend was my 5th & 6th grade teacher and elementary school principal. In our combined classroom, he grouped us in ever-changing ways that challenged each child appropriately.

Those of us for whom school was easier sometimes served as tutors to those who weren’t. Everyone benefitted. He played games with us at recess.

Mr. Townsend made those who misbehaved stand in a corner or, worse, put their noses against a small circle on the blackboard. Believe me, I went to great lengths to avoid that possibility! He was firm, fair and funny. He loved his job and loved us.

My latest, unexpected, teacher is Frank O’Connell, golf pro at the Championship Course. My husband gave me a certificate for some lessons for my birthday. I had played occasionally for years, never with instruction.

Frank’s task was a mixed one: I’m reasonably athletic, committed to improving, and have lots of bad habits. During the months we worked together, never once did he lose his patience or his sense of humor.

It’s fair to say I forced him to use many of his accumulated coaching strategies. I’ve improved. Equally important, I’ve witnessed, again, the brilliance and gift of good teaching.

Like many in Incline, I will miss Frank when he moves to Hilton Head. He made a difference. I’m a better golfer and teacher because of him.

Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at