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Best teachers bring out the best in students

Several years ago after Dr. Bill King received the Lois Latham Award for Teaching Excellence, he told his audience at Davis & Elkins College that the purpose of education is not to pound in information, but it is to draw out the abilities of students.

He noted that the root word of education is to educe, from the Latin educere, meaning to draw out.

This process of drawing out is part of natural maturation, and good teachers understand how to facilitate the process much like midwives facilitate the birthing process. The active agent of change has to be the student, but students must believe that they are equal to the task of developing their own skills and training their own minds. Teachers may assign challenging tasks that are within reach and offer support along the way, but the students must do the real work to bring about their best achievements.

When I think of the one teacher who helped me the most, I believe it was my high school English teacher, Margaret Purdum Goddin. I was one of those unlucky students who had dyslexia and did not learn to read easily nor to spell correctly.

Most English teachers would have thought that there was no way that I could succeed in school, but Mrs. Goddin (later Dr. Goddin), did not set any limits on her expectations for me.

She took time to help me through the process of writing a research paper, and she sent my short story to the West Virginia Centennial Writing Contest.

After my short story won that contest, I went to a state meeting and met Sara Bucher from Harman who had read my short story in a small booklet before she met me. It was such a surprise to discover that I could write something other people would read and remember. That was when I decided that I wanted to be a writer.

Dr. Goddin was a brilliant woman, but she understood that her intelligence was not the point. Teaching English not only depended upon what she knew about literature and composition; it was what she knew about her students’ needs that mattered most. Although her father was a college professor and she was intellectual herself, she went deer hunting and could talk with students about hunting before or after class. Some of my classmates needed to kill a deer to help provide food for their families, and they were amazed that Dr. Goddin really knew something about guns. Dr. Goddin was able to help her students discover what we could do best because she would not let labels like disadvantaged or dyslexic define the limits of our abilities.

Her willingness to help her students find things we could do well was the secret of her great teaching. It is also the reason that I want to add an apple to the Teacher Tree at Kump Education Center with the name of Dr. Margaret Goddin who made student success her priority and our responsibility.

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