This is our second installment in a special series of articles we prepared for Teacher Appreciation Week, recognizing amazing educators who make a difference in the life of students. If you have any suggestions, stories you want to share, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can’t let this week go by without honoring one of my favorite teachers of all time, Jack Webber. As my sixth grade teacher, he had an infectious love for learning, and his classroom was where I fell in love with science. (yes- that is him and I in class) There are many things that we learned that I remember to this day. I could tell you where my desk was when we learned the order of the planets. I could quote you word for word the definition of science. But he never let us settle. It was through him I learned to thirst for knowledge. When I had him again for 7th grade science, I can remember clearly when he asked the class for the definition of science. My hand never shot up faster…. “Science is the organized study of anything using the scientific method.” He paused, smiled, and replied- “That is a great 6th grade definition of science but now let’s see what else we can find out.” Mr. Webber is retiring at the end of this school year. Thank you Mr. Webber for influencing so many children to become lifelong learners. The classroom will miss you!
Here is his story-
I am currently a High School Math teacher for Snoqualmie Valley School District at the public Alternative School of Two Rivers in North Bend, Washington. I teach predominately at-risk students who have, for whatever reasons, not been successful at the regular High School, and have dropped out and chosen the challenge to attend our school seeking a more meaningful education.
My students usually have turned off to math a long time ago and it is always gratifying to me to be able to share with them again the beauty and mystery of mathematics. I believe in my students. I never give up on them, never give into the illusion they cannot learn something difficult and never quite trying to find a different way to explain and show the math skill again until we both succeed.
The most important lesson I have learned in my 41-year career since 1974, is that the two most important things I can give to my students is sincere caring and endless patience.
I always assume they have the best of intentions and truly want to succeed, and deserve my respect and need to know that I am all in when it comes to helping them learn. It is we against the math, a team, in tandem, going forth to slay the dragon of math illiteracy! I tell them constantly “it is ok not to know, but it is not ok to continue not to learn, so let’s get started.”
As I anticipate the end of my teaching career and find myself reflecting back, several themes and images emerge. How did I ever get here and why? I did not always want or dream of making education my profession, in fact originally, I earned a degree in Business Administration with a minor in accounting. But after working hard for several years, I began to fill very unfulfilled trying to simply “move up the ladder” and trying to find ways to constantly make more money. My jobs always seemed to lack any real emotional reward even at the top rung. So I began to look for a job, a career, a profession whose primary goal was to care for the person, care about the individual, their lives, and their futures. That was when and why I decided to return to school to earn a teaching degree, even though it has meant far less income and respect, it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Since then I have taught students at every grade level, and a multitude of subjects, from Kindergarten to 6thgrade, middle school science and language arts, to seniors in High school, undergraduates in college to masters candidates at a University, in 4 school districts and 5 different schools and I helped create and start an alternative junior high and Samantha Smith Elementary School.
My favorite grade level by far was 6th grade, but I can truly say I have been rewarded and enriched by each and every student whether learning from the struggling students how to improve my teaching skills and patience, or celebrating with those who finally got it! In the spirit of full disclosure though, I must acknowledge that I did not succeed with all of them and that is my one biggest regret. I only wish I knew then what I know now about the human brain and had all the tools I now have in my teaching skills toolbox. But with those who came along for the ride, when it clicked, when the joy of learning happened…Wow! What a feeling! I cannot wait to sit in a rocking chair someday and reflect back on all the lives I have touched and enriched, but more than that, to simply remember the ups and downs of the wonderful journey over 4 decades and 6,500 students. That truly will be reward enough!
Jack Webber currently resides in Snoqualmie, WA with his wife Elaine who is also an educator. He has two daughters, Dana and Alicia who work as a principle and a mental health therapist. He is also Grandpa to two grandchildren.