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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Teacher Appreciation Week: Mr. Senter

I think my favorite teacher in my k-12 education was Mr. Senter, who I had when I was a junior at Oak Ridge High School.  Mr. Senter was my American History teacher and he began every day with a quote he got out of his big book of quotes.

"All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved," said Mr. Senter.  "Sun Tzu said that.  Anyway, let's go ahead and get started, shall we?"

"What the hell did that mean," I wondered.  But I soon learned that underneath his outrageously dry sense of humor, which I came to seriously appreciate, Mr. Senter was sending us hints about what we would be learning, why it was important, and how we'd use it later on.

Whether he was bopping us on the head for sleeping in class with his Puritan punishment stick (that they really used to bop people on the head in church), forcing us to carry an oversized movie poster holder as a bathroom pass, or engaging me in a relay race from the main office back to class by grabbing the bathroom pass out of my hand like a baton from behind when I didn't realize he was coming and then yelling, "I win!," Mr. Senter was always looking for ways to engage and strengthen his relationships with his students.

And then there was the learning part.

At the beginning of the year, he thought we were his AP class.  It was only after someone started complaining about the amount of work that he said, "Oh - you guys are so smart.  I thought you were AP."  We all got kind of offended.  Hey, we could be AP!  I don't know if it was reverse psychology, but we demanded to be treated like the smart kids.  And Mr. Senter set the bar high.

I remember the day Mr. Senter said, "I just learned about this new strategy called SQ3R.  This is how it works....."  That was my first introduction to SQ3R (apparently he used that same sentence every year), and even though I hated doing it, it really worked (and I've used it multiple times in my teaching). He'd put us in groups, make us go over the chapter and decide what the most important parts of it were, and then present to each other on what we learned.  Mr. Senter was one of the few teachers who made a consistent effort to engage me in structured group work, and it really forced us to take ownership of our learning.

For our final exam, we memorized something like 40 terms that represented the chronology of the US and wrote full paragraphs describing each and explaining how they fit together.  I remember the last one was Walmartization.

Thanks, Mr. Senter, for teaching me to appreciate an incredibly dry sense of humor, for holding us all to high expectations, and for giving me a seriously solid background in American history that served me well in college and my teaching career.  This one's for you.  Thanks!

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