Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Teachers Change Lives: Mr. Eaves, Respect, and Curiosity

Being back in Nebraska, I'm feeling pretty nostalgic about just about everything. The food, the places, the experiences. I've even seen in passing a few people I went to college with, which is strange for me, having been away for so long. Or maybe it wasn't even that I've been away for so long but rather that I've been so far away for a few years that it seems like a completely different world that I once belonged to.

In honor of feeling nostalgic, now seems like the right time to tell you about a teacher who inspired me once upon a time.

Despite me loathing the subject he fancied to the extreme, my fifth grade teacher Mr. Eaves took my curiosity to a new and interesting level. The last year I spent at Stapleton Elementary in Joplin, Missouri, was filled with experiments, trips, explorations into the organic world, and, most importantly, the gift of trust and respect from an adult.

In elementary school I was part of a group of seven girls -- the Magnificent Seven they called us. We ran around the school like we ran the place, and the teachers knew that we were super tight knit. As we all ended up in the same fifth grade classroom, Mr. Eaves took advantage of our clique.

Between experiments with wave bottles (soda bottle + oil + colored liquid), tornado machines (two bottles taped together with water, spin it and tornado), and building rockets that we shot off on a non-school day at a field near the local university, Mr. Eaves put together an aviary in the back of the classroom and filled it with zebra finches. Our task, as the Magnificent Seven, was to spend our fifth grade year taking care of the birds.

We fed them, cleaned the cage, made sure their nests were cozy and clean, and at the end of that fifth grade year, Mr. Eaves gave us each a gift: We got to take some of the birds home with us. Me, being sentimental at that age and having the utmost respect for the teacher who made soda bottles interesting, named one of the birds Teaves.

Our final project was to take the empty, barren space between the two legs of our school building and plan a large garden. We created water features, decided which plants would grow best in the shade and which needed complete sunlight. We built in little walking paths and bridges. We created an entire ecosystem based on our teacher's guidance and our own creativity. It wasn't until a year later -- when we were all in middle school -- that the area was transformed. Mr. Eaves invited us all back for the unveiling, and the picture of most of the Magnificent Seven is one of my most precious.

The spark of curiosity that he inspired in me -- to get down and dirty to understand the mysteries and fun in the universe -- sticks with me even today. We loved Mr. Eaves for trusting us enough to raise birds and build rockets. He gave us the kind of respect that a fifth grader needs before launching into Middle School, which was such a gift for me at that time.

And if you know the kind of person I am, you won't be surprised to find out that the Magnificent Seven went to the lengths of purchasing Mr. Eaves a plaque and balloon on the last day of school to show him how much we loved, respected, and appreciated him. Ridiculous, right? 

Although I fell a bit out of love with science later in life after some bad experiences with honors courses and not great teachers, I still have a fascination with hands-on activities and creating things. As someone who reflects on life through the written word in numerous capacities, I have to think on and thank Mr. Eaves for giving me the gift of trust, respect, and most of all, the gift of curiosity

Feeling inspired? I'd love to hear about a teacher who inspired YOU! Check out this video of Chris Emdin, a science teacher in the Bronx who (oddly enough) incorporates hip hop into his lessons to help students see science in a different way. 

Also: Consider donating to Teachers Change Lives by clicking on "Donate to a Teacher" on their website. After all, teachers are doing innovative things in the classroom and you can help them do more by donating!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.