Monday, April 04, 2011

If There is a Chair 1 In Heaven, It's Yours

We all have teachers, professors, and coaches whose impact on our lives has left an imprint on us more than the average educator. As a 7th and 8th grader at All Souls, I was privileged to encounter one such teacher. She taught English and speech, coached the speech team, and was named Ms. Miles. Ms. Miles died this past week.

In the hallway, Trudy Jo Miles was intimidating and imposing. In the classroom, that intensity was multiplied by three. You learned quickly that there was no messing around on her watch. You got there on time, you paid attention, and you did your homework. Nothing else was acceptable. After a few short months, the intimidation factor wore off and you saw her as what she truly was: a fantastic woman and teacher. She knew the material she was teaching and she knew exactly how to cram it into your wandering, preteen, ADHD brain. 

Her most effective teaching tools were the chairs. A portion of your grade was determined by where you sat in the room. The classroom seats were numbered from 1 to 30. The smaller your daily average of seat position for the term, the better your seat grade. Seat upgrades were earned by correctly answering questions. For example, let's say there was a homework assignment from those friendly orange vocabulary books. The person in Chair One would say the answer to question one. The person in Chair Two would verify that Chair One's answer was correct. If Chair One's answer was correct and Chair Two confirmed it, Chair One would stay and Chair Two would answer question number two. If Chair One was incorrect and Chair Two caught the mistake, Chair Two would take Chair One's space. If Chair One was incorrect and Chair Two did not catch the mistake, the question continued to move back seat by seat until the right answer was given. The correct respondent got to claim their new position while every moved back one space. This continued until all the homework questions were answered. If you forgot your homework, you were automatically shuffled to the back of the room.

Every once in a while, Ms. Miles would call for a Jumble Up. This was her Chair version of high stakes poker. On those days, if you got a question wrong you did not just move one chair backwards; you moved to the back of the room. It was stressful and fun and always entertaining to see people move all over the room.

As a person, she was caring and thoughtful. She attended numerous sporting events being played by her students. She always had time for questions and extra assistance when needed. The few instances I returned to All Souls after graduation, she was on the list of people I made sure I stopped in to see.

Under her instruction and guidance, I established what I would consider to be a solid understanding of the English language. Because of her, I can still diagram sentences. Because of her, there is an MLA Handbook in my house. Because of her, I use correct grammar even when limited by 140 characters on Twitter. Because of her, I still cringe when I read emails and proposals written by engineers. Because of her, I still get into arguments about the necessity of the Oxford comma. (Seriously people, you need the comma! There is a huge difference between "I went for a walk with my dogs, Sarah and Mackenzie." and "I went for a walk with my dogs, Sarah, and Mackenzie.") Because of her, I love Faulkner, Hemingway, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Because of her, I feel comfortable speaking in front of people, even without a prepared speech.

Ms. Miles has influenced more than just this wayward student. I'm confident than hundreds upon hundreds of All Souls students share my sentiments. Thank you, Ms. Miles, for all that you did for me and the countless others you touched in your life. You will be missed.

All Souls will never be the same again.