My least favorite teacher was my sixth grade teacher, Sister Helen, or “Yellin’ Helen” as she was known. I don’t think I ever saw the woman smile. Her face always held a frown and there was definitely a reason she was called “Yellin’ Helen.” She was forever screaming at my class for something we had done wrong, which only seemed to push us to go on to more mischief.
One of the worst things about Sister Helen’s class was geography. Through some error, the geography books had not been ordered and there were very few of them. So Sister Helen’s solution was to copy the book on the chalkboard and have us then copy the copy (are you still with me?) in our notebooks. We wasted most of our day copying the textbook and then answering the questions for homework. This situation went on for over a month. Finally my father, who was also a teacher, had had enough of my complaints of hand cramps and wasted time. He made an appointment to discuss this folly with Sister Helen and find out why she couldn’t teach us geography instead of having us copy the textbook. He must have made headway because we stopped copying the textbook and soon the actual textbooks arrived. But Sister Helen’s method of teaching was then to have us read the text aloud in class. She was without a doubt the worst teacher I have ever had.
If I were to talk to her today, I would explain to her that teaching does not mean copying a textbook or reading it aloud. It means supplementing the text with information that the teacher provides. A teacher needs to teach. I believe that Sister Helen was just too lazy to teach or couldn’t teach. Perhaps she didn’t know how. But it was her duty to teach us our subjects, which she did not do. Having students read text aloud, which is what she did in all subjects, is not teaching.
I doubt if my older self talking to Sister Helen would have changed the why she conducted her class. I think she was a hopeless case. We all basically taught ourselves the material we were to learn during sixth grade. This was just wrong. Luckily I was a motivated student and learned despite the shortcomings of my teacher, who was mainly concerned with keeping strict order in the class. Our school was fortunate in that Sister Helen only stayed at the school for one year and no other students had to endure her teaching techniques.
I suspect that there are teachers out there who use Sister Helen’s methods, and I hope that someone stand up to them as my father did. I pray all my granddaughters’ teachers have the sense to teach. I have a niece who is an elementary teacher and I am thankful that she is a conscientious teacher who cares about her charges and teaches to the best of her ability. My father would be proud to know his niece is a good teacher. I pray there will be no more Sister Helens in our schools.