Teaching Secrets from the Best

My father passed away on July 12th. He had been retired from teaching for over thirty years and yet his students remembered him when I posted his obituary. I was so touched by the comments I received from them. I felt like aspiring teachers out there could learn something from a man who was obviously memorable and one of the best. Being in front of a classroom is a difficult job; being an 9th grade history teacher is one of the most intimidating jobs there is. Middle school students are a tough crowd and it can be hard to gain and keep their attention. At that age, students have a tendency to find history hum drum and truly not very engaging; you have to be unique to succeed. My father captured his audience as any great actor does and inspired many.

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Benson Noice, my father, the best teacher.

Here are my father’s teaching secrets:

Prepared

My father had his lesson plans laid out for the whole semester. He knew what he was teaching on what day to what group. I have joked all these years later that my dad had a lecture for every topic conceivable from Lexington and Concord, to the Iron Curtain, to more mundane topics like spending money or doing KP (Kitchen Police). My father always had a terrific memory and he could pull out lecture number 356 on the Battle of Bull Run, recall Napoleon’s birthday, or remember the time I dragged-raced one of his students on the Governor Prince Boulevard. One student wrote, “I looked forward to his class because we never knew what or how he would present this day’s class. Every class was an adventure. I especially remember his mimicking the various British and American Generals. He was an effective, prepared teacher providing an enjoyable class.” I can remember teaching for the first time at the University of Mount Olive and I had tools like PowerPoint, Blackboard and YouTube as aids. My father taught from lesson plans and textbooks with no technology aids and still was prepared for lecturing in front of six classes a day. Be prepared when you teach.

Animated

Many of my father’s students talked about how he brought history alive. As one student wrote, “My favorite memory is of him marching around the room with a long pointer held upwards as if it was a rifle. He was demonstrating how the British were marching back to Boston after Lexington and Concord. As he talked about how more and more of the Colonial Militia fired upon them from behind rocks and trees, he marched around the room faster and faster, until breaking into a full run. To this day, any time I hear or read about Lexington and Concord, I think of Mr. Noice.” Did I mention he taught during the 1960’s and 1970’s? I don’t remember a single teacher of mine marching around the classroom, let alone running. It’s amazing how he brought what could be a dull, date-driven topic alive by physically demonstrating a crucial point in our history.

Independent Thinking

In the late sixties, my family drove to Minnesota on a trailer camping trip around the Great Lakes. One of the things we did on the trip was investigate the Kensington Stone, the main focus of which is whether the Vikings came to the United States before Columbus. I can remember taking photos of the Kensington Stone itself and my father driving us to the hinterland and lakes of Minnesota taking pictures of us pointing to mooring holes in rocks. These photos became a slideshow for students to decide whether or not the Kensington Stone was real or a hoax. Each student had to take the evidence provided by my father and make a decision on what they thought. I think this is such a terrific project that either answer was right, so long as the student produced the justification for their point of view. Create work that makes the student think and defend their solution.

Patient

My father has always been my greatest example and inspiration of patience. I cannot remember him losing his cool, except for a time when my brother Rick (at the age of 7) stuck a paper clip in an electrical socket and it blew out the power to the house. And there were always spirited debates around the kitchen table at dinner, but for the most part, my father was unflappable. He always had the “three strikes: you’re out” rule in the classroom. Once a student misbehaved three times, he sent them to detention. He wasn’t one to raise his voice. I can remember plenty of teachers in middle school who were inconsistent with their discipline and quick to anger. As another of his students wrote, “He was a very kind and patient teacher, I have only fond memories of being his student.” When a teacher is patient, students are more likely to engage and learn.

Engaged

My memories of my father are of him sitting in his favorite chair in his green Mount Pleasant Junior High jacket in the living room, reading and grading papers every night. Or, after everyone turned in their Kensington Stone assignment, the dining room table stacked with papers. He worked many late evenings and weekends being a great teacher. And, yes, he was more than just a teacher — he ran the chess club and oversaw study halls. Summers, he was a camp counselor; he was continually involved in helping to develop children. As another student wrote, “Hands down, Mr. Noice was my favorite teacher. The way he acted out history lessons was riveting and kept the attention of middle school students. I also enjoyed his Chess club. Watching your dad play 8 to 10 students at once was amazing. He would go around the circle ‘what was your move’ and on and on until there might have been one or two students left. He was absolutely brilliant. Thanks, Mr. Noice, for all you did.” And another student wrote, “Mr. Noice taught a few of us dance moves in study hall. He always had a warm genuine smile.” If you take up the calling to teach, be all in, dance moves and all.

I have to say that I didn’t know most of these stories until after my father passed away. I’m so proud of the legacy he has left with the hundreds if not thousands of students he taught in his lifetime. Several of his students were so inspired by him that they either studied history in college or became teachers themselves. It’s amazing that he had such an impact that his students remember him so fondly decades after he left the classroom. Have you thought of ways to be memorable?

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