Verbal fertilizer

“Put in the work.” It’s the last thing you want to hear when you’re a single mom with a full-time job and your community college teacher is explaining what it will take to pass her class. You just picked up medicine for your sick child; your mid-term paper is due in 2 days; and you need all 40 points or you’ll have to take the class again. What you want to hear is “OK, I feel sorry for you and  I’ll let you slide this time.”

I met a delightful lady this morning on my train ride into work. She’ll remain nameless as I didn’t ask her permission, so let’s just call her The Teacher. She sat across the table from me in a comfortable flannel shirt, reading her Guideposts book. She looked at me with grandmotherly blue eyes through her reading glasses, and graciously responded when I made conversation.

She teaches English to high school grads and working adults, and I asked her opinion about the work ethic of her students. She explained that most students fall into two camps. They are either motivated or they are not. However, she does get approached by even motivated students during occasional on-the-fence moments when life intrudes on education and they get behind.

Like a good language teacher, she explains her philosophy with an analogy…

The Teacher:  “You’re standing in the driveway watching your fancy car get towed away by a big truck. What happened?”

The Student:  “You didn’t make the payments!”

The Teacher:  “Exactly. I expect all of you to put in what it takes to own your education. If you can’t do it now that’s OK, but don’t ask me to let you slide by without doing the work.  Adjust your expectations to stretch your education out to 3 years instead of 2 if you have to, but I won’t help you sell yourself short.”

Now that’s what I called getting schooled on your schooling. She reminded me of some of the best teachers I remember in my youth… usually the ones who called me on the carpet when I needed it. She called her tough love approach “verbal fertilizer.” It doesn’t smell very good, but it will help you grow.

What did one of your teachers say that you still remember to this day?

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10 Comments on “Verbal fertilizer”


  1. Great post, David!

    I had this really fantastic surfer math teacher in 7th grade. He had an innovative way of teaching in simply ‘being.’ 7th graders didn’t quite ‘understand’ what being was…. no one was mature enough to be quite Zen yet.

    He often spoke of surfing and learning from surfing out into the ocean. He admitted being out there on a board waiting for waves taught him a lot about life. Surfers who wipe out, quickly learn to respect Mother Nature. The ocean is bigger than the surfer. When surfers get cocky, they wipe out. Some get back on the board again…. but some get injured and can never be the same out there again. He believed that those who could not return, were those who had much bigger life lessons and those lessons would keep repeating themselves in other ways until learned.

    He took this to heart and incorporated it in how he conducted the classroom.

    The teacher would teach his lesson. And then he would want the lesson to sink in. He said the stupidest people in the world aren’t stupid – it’s just that they don’t have good ‘recall.’ What he meant by that was not that kids couldn’t remember what they learned, but that the human behavior of learning one thing and doing another was what made people stupid ultimately. He hated hypocrites. And often called on any kid in class who was one.

    Kids in the class just couldn’t stop talking. Some kids liked to ‘shush’ the class as a reminder that the teacher liked the class quiet. But quite often it was the ‘shushers’ that were the greatest violators of noise and would end up talking the most.

    The teacher believed a student learns more by shutting up and listening than they do yammering. So he would teach his lesson, have it sink in… there would be quiet time. And he loved that. But when he’d hear the softest whisper – he would yell loud ……’SHUUUUUUUUUUT UPPPPPPPPP!’ And his eyes would shoot daggars and this vein in his head would pulsate. Then he’d walk right over to the whisperer and point standing there to call them out.

    It was at this time the student would say “I’m sorry.”

    And he would say “Don’t be sorry, JUST DON’T DO IT!”

    Sounds really silly and simple, but such a great elementary lesson. He believed that if people slowed down, stopped, thought and listened and not automatically reacted on impulse and take the time to be respectful of the learning process, they would be great students of life.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Thanks Stacey! Look at what a mark he left in your memories! I had a teacher pull me up and over his desk BY MY NOSE once because I couldn’t stop goofing around. It worked.

  2. Larry Baker Says:

    Love the verbal fertilizer analogy. Priceless are the teachers who know that part of their role is to develop each individual student, not just test them on what they learned.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Good point Larry! I always could tell which teachers cared and which ones didn’t. The ones who cared were harder on me.

  3. Dawna Bate Says:

    The teacher with the greatest influence on me was my grade 9 art teacher. (I’ve used this story in a couple of speeches.) My sister – one year older – was very artistic. Back then, I was very timid. I didn’t know what elective to take in grade 9 so I took art. I was working on a project one day and was feeling pleased with my work. He came up, took one look, and said “You’re certainly not as good as your sister, are you?” Timid me ceased to exist right there right then. I whipped around, finger in air and said – very sternly but very controlled – “Don’t you EVER compare me to my sister. We are two different people with two different sets of abilities.” I took music the next year and can now play the flute. I credit him for being the catalyst to that change. About 10 years after graduating, I met him at a friends’ house. He remembered what I told him and said that was the most valuable lesson he learned as a teacher. Wow! My younger sister (also very artistic and one of his favourite students back then) and I had a chance to visit with him. That was when I mentioned to him that he is responsible for me being able to play the flute.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Dawna this is an excellent reminder that motivation can come in many different forms! It should also remind teachers to be careful when they tell a student they are “good” or “bad” with something.

    • Dawna Bate Says:

      So true, David. I was so often told that I was good in math and it was so over-emphasized that I lost sight of other things that I am good at. In high-school the only career advice I was offered was “you’re good in math – go into computers.” For years, I was told I wasn’t artistic and wasn’t creative – and within the last 5 years or so have realized that’s not true. I’m just artistic and creative in different ways. I’m now allowing that side of me to be developed and am looking forward to what comes out of that.

  4. Roland Says:

    This last entry by Dawna is quite poignant….

    Our first “teachers” will probably always be parents… guides and examples in life that we immediately and unquestioningly look up to, admire, love, and raise up onto the pedestals of sainthood…

    … until they fall from that pedestal. Inevitably, being unique ourselves, we eventually differ in thoughts and values, even if juts a little, from our parents. Some of us more than others. While we coast with the basics – “do unto others… unless you have something meaningful to say, don’t speak… be kind… respect your elders…” – we absorb many deeper lessons as we mature with families.

    My Dad is my greatest teacher, but I haven’t stopped learning from him yet, even though he passed away a couple of years ago.

    Growing up, he taught me a lesson that I would carry vividly into my own structure of being a Dad… what I would NOT do in raising my own kids. This caused me to hold my anger response… ask “what were you thinking when you did this?” … and CHEER when my kids did anything that I endorse. He taught me many other things as well, some with loving guidance, and some with dark cruelty.

    I came to love my Dad without reservation. However that took me growing up to accomplish, and determining that although his harsher ways di d not suit me as a child or young adult, that his intentions were always directed toward my best interests, and handed to me from the inner dedication of his love for me.

    Since then, adding experiences with my own kids has expanded my Dad’s teachings. It seems that with greater definition, the words come to mean more. It’s all relative to our own experiences. The words are the same, the message simple.. but the definition is up to us.

    Good teachers guide students to themselves, and show the greater standards.

    Good students continue learning from all lessons, historic and new, and steer and resteer their course accordingly.

    Roland.

    • Dawna Bate Says:

      You make a good point, Roland. I had made a follow up comment, which was probably on David’s Facebook page that I couldn’t think of a positive influence by a teacher. I was hoping it was the passing of time and not the lack of positive influences that was causing this hole.

      I was thinking solely in the confines of the school environment and hadn’t stretched my thinking to include parents, co-workers, bosses, fellow Toastmasters and other people that have crossed my path. Now that you’ve expanded my view, two people come to mind – in a very different field than I normally thought. I am not athletic by any stretch of the imagination and don’t partake in a lot of physical activity. I also suffer from arthritis, with severity that has fluctuated from “almost noticable” to “have to crawl across the floor and ‘bump’ up the stairs to get anywhere”. Several years ago, I took Tai Chi and had a very experience instructor. A couple of years ago, I took yoga with a very experienced instructor. Both of them were fabulous at learning about my physical restrictions, adjusting the movements to my limitations and keeping an eye on what I was doing. Unfortunately, in both cases it was still too much for my body to handle. The yoga instructor suggested a different kind of yoga which hasn’t fit into my schedule but I think is a good alternative. Both people made it possible for me to partake in an activity that I never thought I would be able to experience and for that I am grateful.

      Thanks for the adjusted view and for reminding me to expand my definitions.

  5. Roland Says:

    You are welcome, Dawna. Thanks for your comments as well.

    I can appreciate your search for physical wellness. I seek to keep my body as fit as possible. The one thing that I have found that helps me the most if turning my body alkaline as opposed to acidic. You may want to look into this. It is my belief that the body replenishes every cell within a seven year period – some much faster. However when these cells are produced in an acidic body, they cannot regenerate as they are designed. When a body is alkaline, the cell reproduction process allowed to function more normally to create new healthy cells, and anti-oxidize – oxidation is slowly killing us all. Add to this a healthier digestive system – which is also attainable for everyone – and good food, and your condition will change. You will find that more yoga techniques and styles become available to you.

    In this way, ALL your yoga gurus will become helpful and key in your physical recovery and development.

    All the best… and thanks again for your thoughts.

    Sincerely,
    Roland.


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