May 29, 2009

First Person: College essay honors teacher who inspired

Source: New York Teacher

Pamela Parish, a 25-year teacher at Schenectady High School, recently received a very public honor, brought on by the praise of one of her former students.

Brendan Csaposs, a graduating senior at Hobart College in Geneva, wrote an essay nominating Parish for the annual "Touching the Future" award.

Parish's influence had a major role in shaping Csaposs' world view. He will spend two years in Louisiana, participating in the Teach for America program, and is then considering law school and entering the political world.

This is his essay about Parish.

By Brendan Csaposs

Looking back to my first day of high school in fall of 2001, I never would have thought of her as life-changing. She was eccentric, outspoken and never afraid to be forthright in her remarks to students, and to be honest, in the beginning I was not entirely sure what to make of her.

Four years later, however, these would be the qualities that so endeared Ms. Pamela Parish to me as a teacher. And as I look back over the course of my academic career in the time that has passed since that first fall day, it becomes all the more obvious that she is a person who has shaped my life in indescribable ways

Growing up, I was always a good student, or perhaps even a very good student. When I say this, what I mean is that I absorbed material well in class, did well on tests, and — for the most part — learned the material.

But I had "difficulty completing out-of-class assignments," as one of my middle school teachers so politely put it on a report card. Basically I never did homework, but because the rest of my grade was so high, it never really affected my grades.

I had the brainpower to do just enough to get by, but get by with a good grade, and that was perfectly sufficient in my mind.

That all changed, and drastically, when I met Ms. Parish. As a middle school student, I had shown a high degree of propensity for the Spanish language. I enjoyed speaking it and learning more about it, so it was something that I took to very quickly.

Upon entering Ms. Parish's freshman Pre-IB Spanish class, I figured the class would be a breeze. I found myself in a room full of people who clearly had not been studying the language for as long as I had, so I assumed I would be able to coast.

Early on, however, I made the mistake of letting my teacher see that I actually knew far more than I was letting on. From then on, she never let me "just coast" again.

Often, I would find that my essays and other assignments would be graded at a higher difficulty level than those of my peers because, as she put it, "I'm grading you at your proficiency level. You know more."

At the time, I found this development to be most upsetting. However when I graduated from the International Baccalaureate Program after four years with Ms. Parish, I realized I had reached a level of Spanish proficiency I had never even envisioned.

More importantly, I had learned a significant lesson: Just doing enough to get by with a good grade actually is not sufficient. This is a lesson that I have carried with me ever since.

I see it in my college GPA (much higher than in high school), my double majors, even the independent study work I have done and my participation in our school's honors abroad program. Since I met Ms. Parish, I have consistently pushed myself to go above and beyond the "average" and striven to realize my full potential as a student.

For these reasons, I feel I owe many thanks to Ms. Parish for where I am today. I never would have pushed myself to the same achievements, graduated with an academic record of the same caliber, nor been accepted to the Teach for America program without the incredible work ethic and high self-standards that she instilled in me.

I have had a multitude of amazing teachers over the years who have instilled an incredible wealth of knowledge in me about a vast array of subjects.

But what Ms. Parish instilled in me was just that much greater: the ability to understand and better myself.

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