For many of my classes at Monte Vista, we follow a standardized list of state requirements in the beginning of the course. For example, in trigonometry, a standard is that "students know the definition of sine and cosine as y- and x-coordinates of points on the unit circle and are familiar with the graphs of the sine and cosine functions." Sine and cosine curves are ultimately things I can learn from a textbook, should I be so inclined to sit down and flip through one.
Teachers show me more than just which page to flip to. Mr. Kindley, who teaches trig, was not my teacher because he showed me what a sine curved looked like. My AP English Language teacher, Mrs. Buckley, was not a teacher because she taught me the meaning of "litotes" (and, to be completely honest, I really can't remember the meaning of "litotes" - I just remember the word because it's so peculiar). Mr. Bowling was not my teacher because he made me memorize all the countries in Africa, from Zambia to Togo.
My favorite teachers are the ones who help me think in a new way, become more curious about the world, and build the foundation of my beliefs - all things textbooks can't offer. After being in Senora Estevez's Spanish class, I realized the Spanish language was not a bunch of grammar rules and vocabulary words I needed to memorize. She read us famous Spanish literature in her lilting accent and then patiently explained the meaning of each line. Now, months after I've left Senora Estevez's class, I often find myself browsing the library for the poems of Frederico Garcia Lorca and the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, two authors I encountered first in her class. She introduced me to something that really resonated with the person I am, and I've loved Spanish literature every since.
I guess that's the thing with good teachers - they teach me about myself. I won't forget how the final of my AP English language class was an "ethics" roleplay. In the roleplay, my classmates and I questioned whether our ethics are strong enough for us to always adhere to them. The imaginary scenario was that our class was suspected of cheating on a major exam. I assumed a character with her private motivations and desires. The object was to avoid being expelled for cheating. I was given the chance to rat on my classmates, make up lies, bribe school officials, or anything that could prevent me from being "expelled." The point was to make me look within myself and find my own course of action - whether I accuse another student to save myself or carry on honorably was my choice and mine alone.
It's hard to talk about good teachers without sinking into hopeless clichés. But, to be honest, the more I've grown, the more I've realized that clichés are true (that idea is another cliché, isn't it?). Sometimes, I don't feel like doing math homework, or writing that English essay, or finding all the African nations on a map. Sometimes I don't like school at all and I can't wait for the bell to ring. But when I walk out of a class like chemistry and I find myself thinking about the way everything can be reduced to atoms, the way there is commonality among all things, I realize my teachers have left a lasting trace of themselves within me.
Since I've been doing college applications recently, I've been putting a lot of thought into imagining my future. And, it's nice - exciting, even - to look forward to all the great teachers I'll meet in the future, the people who change me because they encourage me to look within myself and find what I'm made of. I could meet a teacher like, perhaps, Mrs. Moore, who, because she listened to my short story back in freshman year and said "wow" with her eyes glittering, made me realize I wanted to write for the rest of my life.
I've had so many great teachers that I don't even have the space to mention all of them and I'm much too embarrassed to show any of them this article, anyway. But if you're a teacher (maybe even my teacher), I really would like you to know that you're very much appreciated.
Maria Shen, reporting on Generation Y, is a senior at Monte Vista High School. She founded Contra Costa County's Young Bohemians creative writing club and is editor of Voicebox, a literary magazine. E-mail her at email@example.com.