Why did my Polish teacher seem to care more about my education than my black teacher?

Posted: August 14, 2012 by Keith Townsend in Uncategorized

There are some educators that leave a lasting impression on your life.  I’ve had many throughout my time.  My Freshman year high school teacher Mrs. Dobson was one of them.  She was tough and taught me a lot.  My computer teacher throughout high school Mrs. Jackson invested a tremendous amount of time and personal resources into developing my computer skills.  Both were very effective black women that were great role models of teaching and with two very different styles.  But there are two teachers that stick out in my memory for very different reasons.

Super Stars

The first was Mr. Mankowski.  Mr. Mankowski taught the honor class for a combined 7th and 8th grade class at my grammar school.  He was incredible.  He would refer to us as “Super Stars” because we were exceptions based on our performance in the classroom.  Up until this point in school I didn’t really think that I was particularly bright.  Very much the opposite.  I was and to this day not a very good speller.  I equated not being able to spell to not being intelligent.  Mr. Mankowski helped define my geekness.  He introduced me to Space exploration, foreign language, science and social issues beyond the black community.  He helped me understand why Martin Luther King was important to not just blacks but all of mankind.  He was one of those special educators that obviously wasn’t working in public schools for just a paycheck.

On the flip side there was Mr. Byrd.  Mr. Byrd replaced Mr. Mankowski as the honors teacher for our 7th and 8th grade class the next year.  Mr. Mankowski left to go teach French at a magnet school.  Mr. Byrd helped re-enforce the stereotype that there wasn’t anything special about us.  We weren’t particularly gifted, we were just a bunch of “Doodoo Birds” as he called us.  I don’t think some of the younger kids truly understood how damaging Mr. Byrd’s words were to our developing minds.  Even at 13 years old I had an appreciation for how damaging he was to my self-esteem.  We had this guy that didn’t look anything like us believe so much in our capability leave and be replaced by a man who looked like many of our fathers and say the complete opposite.

Words have power.  Words from people with authority has much greater power to children still learning about the world.  To this day I really don’t understand Mr. Byrd.  He could have made a huge impact on our lives for the positive.  I understand he needed to be tough.  Mrs. Dobson was tough but effective.  She didn’t verbally abuse us.  She was able to make use feel bad when we let her down but not feel bad about who we were as individuals.  It’s amazing how much damage a single teacher can do to an education.  I’m thankful for the passionate and faithful teachers I’ve had over the years.  The good FAR out number the bad but when they were bad they were DooDoo Byrds.

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