High Expectations, High Support, and Teacher Appreciation

By Rose Helm
This past weekend I traveled down to Laguna Beach for the birthday party of one of my childhood friends. As I walked through the sliding glass doors leading to the backyard of my friend’s childhood home, I immediately noticed the expansive view of the ocean, something I had never paid attention to before despite the hundreds of hours I spent there throughout middle school and high school. It reminded me of a line from a Tom Waits song, “I never saw the east coast until I moved to the west,” though ironically, it was the west coast I was only noticing after having lived east.
Moments later that saying rang true again when I heard the distinctive voice of my high school math teacher, whom I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. When Mr. Shapiro—or “Shap”’ as we called him back in the day—laughed in that full belly way, I was instantly transported back into first period geometry on the first day of 9th grade. Coming from my private elementary school into public high school, I was like a fish out of water, knowing only a handful of kids from my neighborhood. But in Shap’s class, I felt both challenged and supported. Shap was legendary for making his students work incredibly hard all week with the promise of a few songs played on his guitar on Fridays. Here, nearly three decades later, was Shap, on his guitar taking requests—everything from “American Pie” to “Here Comes the Sun.” After a hard week, hearing his voice transported me back and made me realize that I never saw my teachers until I became one myself.

With Shap, as well as many of my favorite teachers, there was always a link between the high expectations they set forth and my ensuing motivation. Mr. Peterson’s fifth grade class was both nurturing and stimulating, and where I experienced failure for the first time. Without that D on my long division test, I wonder, would I have vowed so insistently to earn an A in the class? The same held true for my medieval art class in college where I nearly failed the midterm but became the TA the following year. What I realize now is that when Shap, Mr. Peterson, and Professor Bouche held me to a rigorous standard, they were actually showing me that they believed I was capable of so much more.

As I think about how our teachers show up for our students, it is with this culture of high expectations and high support. These past several weeks I’ve been meeting with fifth grade families as part of our secondary school counseling process, and there is a common theme among their comments about our teachers: our teachers push our students to do their best while also providing them resources and reassurance so they feel supported and seen. Hopefully, it won’t take our students quite so long as me to see their teachers for the remarkable influence they are…nor notice that we can see the ocean from our school.

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The John Thomas Dye School

11414 Chalon Road
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Phone: (310) 476-2811
The John Thomas Dye School admits students of any race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic or other school-administered programs.

Located In Los Angeles, CA, John Thomas Dye is an independent school for grades K-6. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.