Memorable Teachers and How They Made Me a Better Educator: Part Three

I am lucky to have had five teachers who made a powerful and positive impression in my life and, looking back, I realize they greatly influenced the kind of teacher I am today. For this five part series, I will talk about why the teachers were important to me and how I use what I learned from them in my own classroom.

Part Three: Junior Year American History with Mr. Leikam

I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who is as passionate about his job as Mr. Leikam.  Mr. Leikam was my junior year American History teacher, and he knew how to have high expectations for students and hold them to it. He would get seriously angry and disappointed, really take it to heart, when students wouldn’t do their homework or wouldn’t try as hard as they could. Since students had so much respect for him, they didn’t often let him down.

During my junior year my brother was diagnosed with and died of cancer. Mr. Leikam's class was a safe place for me that year. Even though my life outside of school was difficult, grim, and unstable, I always knew what to expect in his class. Every day I knew he would have the notes written on the chalkboard that formed the perimeter of the room and as soon as I sat down I was to copy those notes into my notebook in preparation for class. I knew it was expected of me to have my homework completed before class or to have studied for one of his difficult tests.  I knew I could expect a passionate lecture about American history and corny jokes or phrases interspersed throughout the lesson (see below for a sampling). That kind of routine and laughter helped me during one of the most difficult years of my life.

Corny Mr. Leikam Jokes:
  • Introducing new content by saying “So I looked deeply into her one eye and said ‘Baby, baby, baby, let me tell you about (insert daily topic here).’”
  • “Lettuce study today because there may be a test tomato.”
  • When someone was off task or not with it during the lesson he’d say “Stop dinkin’ around like Abraham Dinkin.”
  • He loved the Beatles but didn’t like rap music because “they refer to women as garden implements.”
  • For every single test students always knew the answer to question number ten because he constantly reminded us “Ten is C because Tennessee.”
  • He hated cheating and had two special phrases he’d use often before tests “No ocular gymnastics” and “If I wanted to see a cheetah I’d go to the zoo.”
  • And his near daily “son of a buck” was sort of a catch all.
Mr. Leikam taught me more than just American History. He showed me the value of a routine in making students feel safe. He demonstrated the effects of high expectations for students.  He was a model of being passionate about education. In my classroom I have my own routine of what students can anticipate every class period. I interject humor whenever I can. Having high expectations for all of my students is more difficult than he made it look but I will continue to work on it because Mr. Leikam showed me it’s possible to have all students meet those expectations.

Take a look at the other teachers who are a part of this series.
Part One: Elementary School
Part Two: Middle School
Part Four: Graduate School
Part Five: School of Life

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