Mrs. Gorman Changed My Life
Not in an awe-inspiring, mind-blowing, hoping-Disney-buys-the-movie-rights type of way. But she was a life-changing teacher nonetheless. She was my English teacher in 1985, during my 7th-grade year at Richardson North Jr. High School in Texas. She was already a legend when I got her for a teacher, well known as being eccentric, strict, and demanding.
Mrs. D. Ann Jones Gorman passed away in Nov. 2020. What her family didn’t know until the funeral service is that there is a Facebook Group page dedicated to her … “Mrs. Gorman was my favorite teacher ever!”. As the 564 members of the group all learned of her passing, there was post after post from former students, declaring what a difference she made for them. Many reminisced about diagramming sentences. Others quoted the coordinating conjunctions in the sing-song manner in which she taught them (“and, but, for, or, nor, and sometimes yet and so!”). People remembered her techniques for memorizing 100 prepositions and lamented the many pop quizzes we took to make darn sure we never forgot them.
As I reflected on Mrs. Gorman’s influence on me, I did so through the filter of my experience with Professional Learning Communities. Mrs. Gorman didn’t know anything about the 3 Big Ideas of a PLC … at least, she didn’t know them in that context. I don’t know if Mrs. Gorman worked within a collaborative culture. But I am positive she was focused on the other two Big Ideas - she placed student learning above all else, and she had a laser-like focus on our achievement. Where Mrs. Gorman excelled was her undeviating expectation that every student was going to learn in her class. It was not optional. Even part of her message to me in my yearbook reflected that: “Come to see me, and don’t forget anything.”
Mrs. Gorman continues to teach me. The academic learning that came from her classes was obvious. But there was an additional benefit that came from her pop quizzes and rote memorization. It was the knowledge that I had value to Mrs. Gorman, and in turn, what I did in her class mattered. By focusing on my academic learning, Mrs. Gorman had also helped to build my social and emotional abilities.
Focusing on Student Learning = Stronger Social Emotional Ability
As teachers continue to navigate the world of education in the times of COVID, we are seeing more and more students who are struggling socially and emotionally. The toll has been immense. We’ve spent large amounts of money, created new programs, and hired people to try and help them. We cannot forget that our students need us to focus on their learning. We have to do the work to be crystal clear about answering the 4 critical questions (DuFour, Dufour, Eaker, & Many, 2010) of a PLC:
1. What is it we want our students to learn?
2. How will we know if each student has learned it?
3. How will we respond when some students do not learn it?
4. How can we extend and enrich the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency? (pg. 119)
By doing the work to clarify the answers to these questions with our teams, we create the pathway to success for our students. As they are successful academically, our students' social and emotional well-being are also going to be strengthened. They will know we are on this roller coaster with them and we aren’t going to forget about what has always been most important … them and their learning.
Some of the posts in the group by former students demonstrate the effect her focus on learning had for them. Alysaa Margrave Byrd wrote (Mrs. Gorman was my favorite teacher ever!, 2020) “I had a teacher when I was in 7th grade that impacted me so greatly, that she still lives in my head to this day when I am writing ... She was legendary, remarkable and unforgettable and most everything she once taught a 12 year old still resides in that same 44 year old brain now...so maybe it's not so crazy after all, that her legacy even now after she is gone, is one of storytelling and a love for words and where they go and the students that adored her!” Another former student (Jason Dallas Fraser, 2020) said, “It was the most I ever learned in one class in one year … And I loved it”.
I hope we have all had our “Mrs. Gormans” … the teacher who inspired us, who made a difference or helped us discover more inside of us than we ever thought we had. Mrs. Gorman had an influence on me that led me to join the ranks of professional educators, hoping that I could do the same for future students. And the concepts within PLCs have given me the tools I need in order to help ALL students learn at the same high level Mrs. Gorman expected of me.
Thank you again, Mrs. Gorman. Thank you for making sure I learned. I won’t forget any of it.
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T. (2010). Learning By Doing (2nd ed). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Mrs. Gorman was my favorite teacher ever! (2020, November 22). I am quite nervous to draft this post for all the reasons I started this page in the first place [Facebook update]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/42705355947/permalink/10158939221000948
Jason Dallas Fraser. (2020, November 25). It was the most I ever learned in one class in one year… And I loved it [Comment on the Facebook post “I took the math journey in life and became a math teacher. For four years though, I taught 5th grade”]. https://www.facebook.com/groups/42705355947/permalink/10158945581210948/?comment_id=10158945655540948