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Stand and deliver - or not

Local students weigh in on one of the greatest influences in their lives: teachers

REVIEW FILE PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lakeridge High School science teacher Jennifer Brazier was the grand marshal at the homecoming parade last fall.A teacher can change a student’s life.

Just as math teacher Jaime Escalante (as portrayed by actor Edward James Olmos) demonstrates in “Stand and Deliver,” teachers who believe in their students can lead them to success, even when there are few other sources of encouragement or support.

This month, members of The Review’s Student Writers Advisory Group — who hail from Lake Oswego, Lakeridge, Riverdale, West Linn and Wilsonville high schools — share their personal experiences and feelings about the power of the people at the head of the class to influence and shape their lives.

Some, such as Lakeridge sophomore Ava Eucker, are grateful for the role a specific teacher played in their lives. Others, like LOHS junior Serena Zhang, write about the ability of all educators to instill a love of learning. And West Linn sophomore Anisha Arcot reminds her fellow students that the road to a great education is a two-way street.

“It is important for us to remember that we also have a responsibility as students. We must bring the best of ourselves to the table, and we must be open-minded, eager and willing to learn,” Arcot writes. “If we come to the classroom with the right attitude, we can help our teachers help us, and in doing so students and teachers can both reach their own full potential.”


Mrs. Brazier: an influential teacher

By Ava Eucker

Those who we admire seem to shape the way we view the world. Be it a family member, friend, coach or teacher, their influence impacts our appreciation or disregard of certain aspects of life. Truly positive and helpful mentors are a blessing, and this year, I have discovered a person who I sincerely admire — my chemistry teacher at Lakeridge, Mrs. Brazier.

By incorporating stimulating labs, class demonstrations and using her intriguing teaching style, Mrs. Brazier receives constant praise and appreciation. She is extremely organized, with daily class layouts for every day of the year accessible in September, along with an orderly room layout to provoke timeliness and attention from students. I feel compensated while in her class, as Mrs. Brazier has a fair late-work policy and homework assignments that consist of online problems that allow you to re-test answers to learn from prior mistakes.

I now love to balance ionic equations and to hypothesize outcomes of combusting organic elements, due to the shared excitement exhibited by my incredible teacher and chemistry enthusiast. Chem class is something I look forward to each day, and I never feel over-stressed because Mrs. Brazier treats quizzes and exams as collections of knowledge; she understands how diligently high school students work to incorporate studying from many course loads.

“I love my students, and I love my job. I feel like the luckiest teacher in the world,” Mrs. Brazier says, “I love the moments when students realize they have the capability of solving complex problems; plus we get to blow up stuff in class!”

Mrs. Brazier is one of the most organized, involved and fascinating teachers I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I will forever be grateful to the skills and fun facts that she has bestowed upon me, and I look forward to further treks of knowledge with her in the months to come.

Ava Eucker is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School.


Dear Teacher X

By Talia Lichtenberg

In the interest of protecting this teacher’s identity, I will take a page out of Buddy Glass’s handbook (see Salinger’s “For Esmé-With Love and Squalor”) and hereafter refer to this person as Teacher X.

For those who may be worried that this letter-of-sorts will never find its true recipient: Rest assured. If X doesn’t figure it out, I will be sure to hand deliver the paper.

It’s been almost four years since I first sat in X’s class. I do have an older brother who also was in X’s class, though, so I think it’s safe to say that X was a presence in my life long before that first day of freshman year.

What has made — and continues to make — X such a great teacher (and I use that word, “great,” knowing that X would most definitely find it irritatingly amusing) is that the subject being taught is almost irrelevant. I say “almost,” because generally teachers who excel gravitate to the field, whether it be the arts or literature, with which they most identify. Yet, for teachers like X, the subject is simply the medium they use to excite and inspire students to take the lead role in their own lives.

Now, I’m pretty sure that X doesn’t start every class wanting to convey some kind of life application. Again, it isn’t about forcing agendas or pushing ideas. Rather, it is about motivating kids to become independent thinkers. I could not tell you how many times X has followed a statement with “I think ...” or “No, I’m asking you.”

Teacher X, I’m not saying “thank you” because I think it hasn’t been said. (We both know that every year ends with more than enough tearful affirmations of thanks). I’m not saying “thank you” because I think I will never see you again. I’m saying “thank you” because I selfishly need to say it, if only to know that my thank you will always be written here, should you ever be in need of it.

Talia Lichtenberg is a senior at West Linn High School.


One million ‘thank-yous’ could not suffice

By Serena Zhang

Even though 80 percent of my junior year is being spent in a sleep-deprived trance, I still genuinely enjoy school. The foremost reason is the fantastic teachers I am fortunate enough to have.

Teachers are arguably the most impressive people ever. They can memorize hundreds of names within a week and grade dozens of essays over a weekend. Teaching doesn’t end after the typical 9-to-5 workday — there are always emails, writing conferences, adjustments to lesson plans, staff meetings and endless questions from students (even though you already covered that point three times today).

It says a lot that the first thing students want to know before a new class is whether the teacher is nice. Sometimes, the instructor is more important than the course itself. A subpar educator can discourage students from taking a class and ruin a favorite subject forever.

Fortunately, a brilliant teacher can make even the most boredom-inducing classes fascinating. In my opinion, the greatest educators are those who express concern for me as a human, not just a student. They are interested in my thoughts and my experiences. They seek to help me on my journey past the goal of getting an A; they want to make my time in their classroom valuable and memorable.

My first great teacher was in kindergarten at Lake Grove Elementary. Ms. Weaver, who has since retired, had sand-dusted curls and a constant smile. For my birthday, she gifted me the classroom flower cutout stamp and the furry pink “cat tail” I had basically fused to my body every recess. It’s one of the most heartfelt gifts I’ve ever received, even if I did turn out to be a dog person.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Serena Zhang pays tribute to former Lake Grove Elementary teacher Ted Nakamura.Another wonderful teacher was Mr. Nakamura in third and fourth grade, also at Lake Grove. He made an amazing effort to come to all of his students’ games and performances. He encouraged students to be kind and involved by rewarding “Nakamura Bucks,” which we could use during class auctions. (I outbid a friend for a dolphin plushy once — no hard feelings, though.) Mr. Nakamura also held Alex’s Lemonade Stand every year, a student-run event that raised money for charity. Sadly, this great teacher passed away almost exactly four years ago, on Feb. 9, 2012.

I’ve had many more fantastic teachers in high school, including a hilarious math teacher who gives a personal writing assignment each year in order to know his students better (he spends his winter break reading and responding to all of them ... thrice!), an enthusiastic history teacher who emails me articles on subjects I’ve expressed interest in, a French teacher who can make even the most linguistically challenged students adore learning the language of love, and a handful of compassionate English teachers who are tireless in their support for my writing.

I owe them my academic career. Thanks to their guidance, my love for learning is renewed every year with a vengeance. The paths they have paved will never fade, and I know that with those trails, I will never falter.

Serena Zhang is a junior at Lake Oswego High School.


To teach or not to teach

By Christine Hong

The average number of hours spent at school is six — six hours a day for about nine months a year. Six hours a day for about nine months a year for 14 years. Some students see their teachers more than they see their own parents, so what type of influence do you think teachers have on students mentally and emotionally?

Teachers and other authority figures have so much power that is so easily abused. Why not use that power for good? Why not actually care?

I have had compassionate, understanding, brilliant and strong teachers, but I have also had rude, condescending teachers who definitely had a negative influence on my life. One teacher would say, “You get what you deserve,” and another would bluntly yell, “Are you depressed?”

At times, there has been no room for encouragement, empathy, compassion or apologies, and maybe there isn’t any time for that at home from a parent, either. Although, there was a day when a teacher once asked if I was “OK” in front of the class, and in front of the class, I nodded, feeling obliged to say “yes.” Did he just ask to pretend that he cared? I know he really didn’t care, and I think he knew that, too.

Why do people decide to become teachers? If it’s not to help students, then they shouldn’t be teachers at all. Sure, teachers aren’t perfect and they aren’t all superheroes; they can’t fly, and they don’t have other super powers. But for some children or teenagers, teachers are the only role models or guides they have.

And to others, they really are true heroes.

During the tragic incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School, first-grade teacher Victoria Soto died protecting her students. She was just 27 years old. I honestly cannot say, given my high school experience, that many teachers would sacrifice their own lives for the sake of their students.

Winston Churchill , the British prime minister during World War II, once said, “Immature love says I love you because I need you; mature love says I need you because I love you.” I think a person should want or need to be a teacher because they love all aspects of it, including the children, no matter the size, mentality or personality.

A teacher does more than teach math, or quantum physics. They have the power to change lives. And it’s not just teachers who have a great influence in the lives of adolescents. I’m talking to all the coaches, mentors, pastors, neighbors, etc.

Are you going to care?

Christine Hong is a senior at Lake Oswego High School.


Bridging a divide

By Claire Williams

Many of my peers are wary of forming bonds with the people they spend hours staring at every day: their teachers. This is a result of the culture of separation between instructor and learner that is propagated in high school — a relationship based solely on the material of the class.

The cold friendships we barely make are not surprising, however, given society’s emphasis on GPA. School is a chore for high schoolers, who, thanks to the enormous academic pressure we face, stress over the numbers that will define us on college applications: test scores and quiz results, homework stamps and lab grades. And in the process, we forget to make friends with our instructors.

The role of the teacher has become that of a distributor of punishments and chores, rather than that of a mentor and enlightener. Thus, any relationship beyond the empty duties of test proctor and examinee is discouraged.

However, it is important to take into account the impact of teachers on the lives of high schoolers. Although parents are regarded as the primary figures who shape our lives, educators have a great amount of influence, especially as we get older. Today, for example, I spent more time with my eighth-period history teacher than I did with my own mother.

Meaningful relationships between students and teachers are hugely beneficial and should be fostered in every learning environment. After attending a school where we called teachers by their first names, I have learned to bridge a generational divide that often results from the superior/inferior power dynamic in public schools. I now see teachers for what they are: human beings — an ability that many high schoolers seem to lack.

Thanks to this attitude, I have reaped many benefits, while many other teens minimize interaction with teachers outside of class. For example, my art teacher has encouraged me to participate in various competitions that I never would have thought to enter. The resulting Scholastic Art Awards I’ve won have given me confidence and will be valuable additions to my college applications. My English teacher encouraged me to apply for a position on the SWAG team, again a result of her knowledge of my abilities and interests outside of her class.

I am incredibly grateful for my teachers — who spend their lives improving mine — and I advise other high schoolers to forge positive relationships with the mentors they have now, so that they can be successful later on.

Claire Williams is a junior at Lakeridge High School.


Strength that propels us

By Xander Klas

Teachers and mentors often affect our lives in ways we don’t even realize. I know that I wouldn’t have the confidence I do were it not for one certain teacher, who showed me I was better than I thought.

It was Sept. 8, 2011 — the day I entered the eighth grade. I was a quiet kid, pretty shy at that point. Smart, though. I had a passion for history, and at the time I wasn’t passionate about much else.

The first thing we did in class was take a standard U.S. citizenship test. Mr. W. prefaced the exam with an ominous warning: “No one has ever gotten 100 percent on this test,” he said.

I instantly raised my hand, a cocky, slanted smile betraying my intentions. “What,” I asked, “if someone does get everything right?”

“Then I’ll buy you a burger,” came the equally sardonic response. So we took the test. It asked what I thought were very basic questions.

We corrected our own tests. As Mr. W. finished reading the answers out loud, my hand shot up. “I believe you owe me a burger,” I said, a confident strength apparent in my tone. Incredulous, Mr. W. snatched my test and hastily hovered over the answers. He shook his head disbelievingly. He owed me a burger.

As the year went on, I got more and more space to exercise my own intellectual muscle. Instead of lowering his expectations to meet the amount of effort students put in, Mr. W. called upon students to rise to the occasion. For a kid who was resigned to the fact that school was a waste of time, it was a powerful experience.

The greatest gift that year gave to me was confidence. I was self-assured, sure, but it was the kind of attitude that was born more of insecurity than any kind of self-love. I couldn’t imagine the luster of life, the adventure that lies waiting to pounce just outside the door. I felt as though I was capable of anything.

It’s this kind of impact that teachers are supposed to make. Connections with mentors propel us through life.

Xander Klas is a senior at Riverdale High School.


Thankfulness to last a lifetime

By Nina Heidgerken

My favorite game as a kid was to play teacher. While my stuffed animals and dolls sat on my floor, I would display on my white board how to write the letters of the alphabet. That game never grew old. But there are special individuals in this world who get to do more than just play teacher. Those people get the chance to have a substantial amount of influence in the lives of many kids.

Teachers encourage and push kids to do their best. If you’re lucky, you’ve had a teacher you will never forget, one who made you feel like a better person because you were taught by them. There’s a saying that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” But that is ludicrous. How can someone teach a concept or skill if they aren’t able to show how to properly execute the task themselves?

Not everyone can stand in front of a class every day and face 30 or more kids who don’t listen and talk when they’re not supposed to — not to mention grade papers and tests that I’m sure are tough to read — and still seem to enjoy their jobs at the end of the day. And it’s not just teachers in the classroom, but also coaches, private music teachers, art instructors, acting coaches — you name it.

What I appreciate in a teacher is when they take time out of their day to talk to me. I love being able to have a conversation with a teacher as if I’m talking to a friend, because they have taken the time to get to know me, what I like to do and what my goals are. Even now in high school, there are times when I remember what a teacher told me in elementary or middle school, and I attribute it to helping me in some way.

I believe teachers do what they do for the good of their students. A good teacher is willing to spend their free time grading papers, seeing a school play or watching a game of some sort. A good teacher knows their students and communicates with them, not just to talk about school, but also to develop an honest relationship so that their students feel comfortable in class.

If the teacher does everything right, their students will be happy to show up to school. Any activity gets significantly better when a student enjoys being around the teacher. There is no such thing as too much appreciation for these role models in our lives, people who teach us to strive higher, help us achieve goals and become better people.

Nina Heidgerken is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School.


Caring about students

By Kriti Rastogi

Three years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be someone who enjoys writing. Writing used to make me groan and hit my head against a wall, something so frustrating and confusing that I would get lost in a maze of unintelligible phrases and run-on sentences and end up scrambling to find my way out of a senseless essay.

It was my English teacher who helped me find my way out. She forced us to think not only about the task at hand, but to think about ourselves as well. I walked out of every class with a new, changed perception of the world and of myself.

Often, a good teacher is one who simply makes an effort to get to know his or her students, especially in impersonal subjects like math or science. When I walked into my math class this year, for example, I was surprised when my teacher asked us to write a personal essay about our lives so that he could get to know us better. After submitting that short, one-page reflection, there was an immediate change in the way our class connected with him. Not only did I find myself more engaged in the class, but the fact that the teacher cared enough to assign the reflection in the first place was enough to let us know that he cared not only about our grade in the class, but also about who we were as people.

Students are often asked to name their favorite class. It has always been hard for me to answer that question, because no matter how boring the subject is, or how frustrating it can be, no class can ever seem unexciting under the guidance of a teacher who truly cares about what they are teaching and to whom they are teaching it.

My favorite class changes every year as I connect with new teachers. It is because of them that I have fallen in love with so many different subjects and have begun to truly appreciate each one. As Karl A. Menninger, a famous psychiatrist, once said, “What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.”

When we are young, our favorite teachers are the ones that teach the most undemanding classes or give us lackluster, insipid homework. But I’ve found that now, in high school, the teachers who do the opposite are the ones who have impacted my life the most.

Kriti Rastogi is a sophomore at Lake Oswego High School.


An understanding teacher is always appreciated

By Andrew Tesoriero

High school is not always easy. There are rough times; there are bad days. There are subjects that don’t always make sense, tests that strike a blow at one’s self-esteem and plenty of drama among the students — both inside and outside of the auditorium.

The teachers are the ones who make it all easier (or harder) — but usually easier. I have seen a great many teachers recognize students in distress and extend a helping hand. Whether that comes as a lenient late-work policy or simply some encouraging words, the help and understanding of a teacher is always appreciated.

In high school, the teachers shape the environment. Therefore, it is important for the teachers to model compassion and understanding in order to create a compassionate and understanding environment at school. At Lakeridge, the teachers accomplish that, and I am glad of that.

Andrew Tesoriero is a Lakeridge High School senior.


A key factor in forecasting

By Anna Speer

Classes can make or break you in high school.

Every spring, when the time comes to forecast for the following year, many students go through meticulous research to decide which classes to take. Nobody wants to be the person who ends up being buried in mountains of homework every night. This is why choosing classes can seem like walking through a minefield; one wrong choice and you could be spending your school year pulling countless all-nighters.

There are many factors as to what makes an interesting class, the most important one being the teacher.

Teachers have a prodigious amount of influence over whether a student succeeds in a class or not. Although ultimately it is up to the student to decide whether he or she wants to take the class seriously, the teacher has power over this decision. Teachers who have a passion for what they do can make even the dullest topic interesting to any student.

The unfortunate flipside to this is when a teacher has the ability to make a class fun and interactive, but instead spends every class period teaching the same monotonous way. For some classes, this is necessary protocol to get through all of the material, but endless amounts of note-taking can bore any student. The ideal teacher makes a class collaborative and emphasizes learning instead of grades.

As I have gone through the U.S. school system, the focus seems to have changed from learning to earning good grades. Grades can cause a superfluous amount of anxiety for many students. Nowadays, grades often make students feel inadequate instead of showing their progress in a class. It is refreshing to have teachers who attempt to take the attention off grades and instead focus on education.

When a teacher has the ability to engage students and get them excited about what they are learning, the class takes on a whole new dynamic. This is why, no matter the topic, the teacher is always the pivotal part of the class.

Anna Speer is a sophomore at West Linn High School.


Realizing our full potential

By Anisha Arcot

The impact that teachers have on their students is more pronounced than it may appear at first glance.

As students, we probably spend more time in the presence of our teachers than our parents, so teachers inevitably have a large impact on our lives. In my experience, an enthusiastic teacher who is passionate about what he or she teaches and makes learning as fun and exciting as possible can make a subject I wouldn’t normally enjoy something to look forward to every day.

On the other hand, teachers who primarily focus on information transfer and don’t go the extra mile to make the subject interesting can make a class I would have enjoyed something to dread.

Every so often, friends and family ask me about my preferred career choice and college major. I find that my answer changes every semester. My changing responses directly correlate to my teachers’ teaching styles. A math or science teacher who loves their subject and is passionate about teaching will inevitably transfer his or her enthusiasm to me. I find myself falling in love with numbers and Newton’s laws, and before you can say “gravity” or “calculus,” I have convinced myself that I am destined to be an engineer. A passionate English teacher can similarly leave me believing that I was born to be an author. I find that the number and diversity of books I read after school increases tremendously when I have an English teacher who inspires me.

I am lucky to say that most of my teachers have been fantastic. They have inspired me to delve deep into the academic world and explore everything from chemistry to English with joy. I think there are some specific things that set these unique and valuable teachers apart from the rest. They are deeply passionate about the subject matter. They love teaching, and it shows. They clearly like working with students. They engage with the students as individuals and help us realize our full potential. Most importantly, they are the ones who aren’t afraid to step outside of the box and create innovative new ways to enable learning. These are the teachers who listen and who, in their actions and words, show us that they are here to help.

We do have to keep in mind, though, that teaching is not a one-way street. A teacher’s ability to teach will sharpen and surpass the highest standards if students are engaged. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just as we need teachers to help us be the best we can be, they need us to come to class open-minded and willing to learn. How can they be passionate and excited and keep that level of enthusiasm going day in and day out if the students do not engage?

It is important for us to remember that we also have a responsibility as students. We must bring the best of ourselves to the table, and we must be open-minded, eager and willing to learn. If we come to the classroom with the right attitude, we can help our teachers help us, and in doing so students and teachers can both reach their own full potential.

Anisha Arcot is a sophomore at West Linn High School.


Personalizing learning

By Anna Spear

Education is a privilege.

I have heard this assertion countless times, from the first moment I complained about going to school. While I love learning, I’ll be honest — sitting at a desk for seven hours of each day and then going home to four hours of homework is not always my cup of tea.

It has been a constant struggle for me to find things that make school enjoyable. For me, this struggle can be exacerbated or assuaged, depending on my teachers. Given the right teacher, even my most hated school subject can become one of my favorite classes. Likewise, having the wrong teacher means that a favorite subject can become one of my most dreaded classes.

Being an effective teacher requires a combination of positive personality traits and creative teaching methods. Throughout my life, my favorite instructors have always been the ones who truly try to connect with their students. I want to be able to talk and chat with my teacher, as this fosters my respect for them. It is important for a teacher to show each student respect as well. The better a teacher knows a student, the easier it is to personalize the learning.

Varying the lessons and routines also improves the learning experience. Playing study games can be beneficial for a class, especially since different people learn in different ways.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are some specific qualities that I think degrade the quality of a course. While it is important to have control over the class, overly strict teachers can put a major damper on learning. For example, not accepting late work can have a significant effect on grades. It is imperative for a teacher to be understanding and flexible about turning in assignments. As a student who travels a lot, I am grateful when my teachers work with me to accommodate my trips.

Ultimately, students need to remember that teachers are not perfect, either. We are all learning. As long as we strive to get better each day, school will inevitably become a happier place with more meaningful learning.

I absolutely agree that education is a privilege. I am thankful to be able to go to school, and even more thankful for the teachers who make it enjoyable to do so.

Anna Spear is a sophomore at West Linn High School.


Divided on GPA

By Katie Trese

In general, teachers do not get the acknowledgement that they deserve.

Sure, on paper their job may look easy. You don’t have to work summers, hours appear to be short, you only have to specialize in one area and your level of expertise doesn’t have to exceed whatever grade you’re teaching. This idea, of course, is contrary to reality.

Creating a good class is far from simple. Teachers must connect with their students, create a good class environment, teach all the required material and move at a pace that suits the whole class.

Almost all of the teachers that I’ve had have been patient, ready to support proactive students and willing to put in extra hours. It still amazes me that English teachers have the stamina to read hundreds of essays on the same prompt in one weekend and give the same level of scrutiny to each one.

All teachers come with different expertise, opinions and teaching methods. It’s important that students learn how to adapt to different teachers; however, if there is one thing that students want consistency in, it’s grades. As simple and mundane as a GPA may seem, to college-bound students, it seems like their future.

Students tend to stray from the infamous hard classes, not necessarily because they’re not interested in the topic, but because they don’t want bad grades on their records. Students are constantly reminded of the looming college rat race. I can’t even remember the last time

I went to a family party without hearing, “So, have you started thinking about colleges yet?” No matter the difficulty of the class, students should be encouraged to expose themselves to new subjects before they have to pick their intended major or occupation.

In general, there’s a grand schism when it come to the topic of grades. There are those who see grades as just an overrated indicator of something more important. Then there are those who glorify the report card as a true and definite way to push students to excel in their lives. Having had teachers from both ends of the spectrum, I can understand where they both come from. It’s refreshing to hear a teacher tell you your current grades won’t determine your future, but it’s also good to have teachers who work with you to improve your grade.

In the end, it should be understood that a report card is only a sheet of paper, but that it also matters.

Katie Trese is a junior at Wilsonville High School.