In college, I had this professor. You know the one that changes your life and puts you right on course for where you need to be? Yep, she’s the one.
Dr. Mecham was my professor for my level two practicum (level four is student teaching, for perspective). On the very first day of class, she stood up in front of the roughly 150 students currently in the practicum and said, “This semester is going to be really hard. It will push you to a lot of limits and we will expect a lot from you. So if you feel like you need to switch to an easier major, perhaps engineering, then go ahead and talk to us and we can direct you to the correct advisors to help you make this switch.”
I was blown away that she had the audacity to state that majoring in engineering would be an easier route than an education degree. I’ve never taken any engineering classes, so I cannot confirm or deny that her statements were true, but I will say that we were worked very hard by our professors and we were expected to perform to the highest standard that semester.
During my practicum, it not only required 14 hours of classes a week but also being in an elementary school classroom every day of the semester working with a teacher to provide classroom experience. This time in the classroom was focused on working with students in small groups and one-on-one to slowly introduce us to eventually student teaching.
My practicum experience in the classroom was less than ideal, with a teacher that often sent me to the copy room to do mindless copy work and rarely let me work with students. There were multiple other problems I ran into, most of which I wish I would have been bold enough to stand up for myself, but at the time I wasn’t.
After a semester of feeling discouraged and not very adequate as a teacher, I had my final interview with my professor, Dr. Mecham. I accomplished all of my school work, had a 4.0 GPA, and according to the books, it looked like I was the perfect candidate to continue my education degree. However, my mental state said otherwise. Dr. Mecham was ready to pass me off and tell me I was ready to continue, but before so, she asked her final question that went something like, “Do you feel ready to move on and that you passed your level two practicum?”
With tears in my eyes, I told her I couldn’t. I said that being a teacher must not be what I am supposed to do as a career, because I felt so inadequate in the classroom, and that I possibly needed to consider a new degree.
She comforted me with compassion, asked details on why I was feeling this way, and reassured me that I wasn’t the problem, my situation was the problem.
I left her classroom with a warm hug and felt better and more confident than ever before. She truly had just changed my life and kept me on the path as a teacher, one that I am still so happy to be on, even if I’m not actively teaching at the moment!
A handful of times I ran into Dr. Mecham in grocery stores and other places throughout town. Every time she saw me she always stopped to say hello with a warm, welcoming smile. She always was ready to take the time to acknowledge an old student, which made me feel like a million bucks!
About a year after being in her class, I was walking through campus with a new haircut. I happened to pass Dr. Mecham on my walk and the first thing she said was, “Oh cute new haircut! I like that style on you!”
I want you to realize that Dr. Mecham hadn’t had me as a student in a full year. I had only seen her very briefly in passing a handful of times. And still, she recognized that I changed my hair! If you want to know the true definition of personal teaching, she is the icon for it. She also asked about my experience at college how far along I was in my program. I was happy to tell her that I would be student teaching soon, ready to take my final step in the program to reach graduation. She was elated for me! She knew how hard it was for me to get through my level two practicum and I knew she was the only reason I continued on.
I thanked her again for telling me how truly hard it would be and preparing me to work hard. And for knowing me and my struggles through it all. I wasn’t just another student walking the halls of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education at Utah State University, I was a student of Dr. Mecham, someone she knew and cared about. And that made all the difference for me.
I try to remember Dr. Mecham in my teaching experience. I try to get to know each of my students personally and pay attention to them as a human, not just someone to teach the curriculum to.
And I strongly suggest you teach like Dr. Mecham too.
You can read an interview I did with her earlier this year. Read her advice to pre-service teachers, it’s so good!