Hall of Fame: Janice Mulvany

Most of the people in my hall of fame are older men that took time to mentor me.  Mrs. Mulvany is the exception to the rule.  Obviously.  So on with the story.

I hated English.  From seventh through tenth grade English class was synonymous with cleaning toilets.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved stories, loved writing, but something always seemed to ruin if for me: teachers.  All the way back in fourth grade I was a slow reader and couldn’t keep up when we read My Side of the Mountain.  The same was true in later grades until I finally got glasses.  It’s amazing how much sight can impact reading.  Back to seventh grade.  My teacher, I’ll call her Ms. Fruity (funny pun if you knew her real name), never really explained things and gave me funny looks when I asked questions.  In that class, a girl picked on me.  I realize now that she was just a typical mean-girl but I couldn’t quite analyze the situation back then.  I grew tired of her antics so one day when she reached to get something from the basket underneath her desk a stomped down so hard on her fingers that she cried.  I pushed with all my might hoping to cause her physical pain.  My ears turned red.  I was the one that got in trouble.  The teacher didn’t even want to hear my story of oppression.  So I associated English class with mean girls and feminist teachers.  (As a side note, I’ve learned to react to mean girls differently, so please don’t worry)

On to eighth and ninth grade.  I had the same teacher two years in a row and it is truly amazing that I didn’t get suspended.  I’ll call her Mrs. Screwdriver.  She was the wife of a lawyer and had the nicest car in the parking lot.  However much money she may have had, it didn’t equate to being money in the classroom.  In my list of worst school experiences ever, Mrs. Screwdriver ranks #2.  Way to go.  We had grammar lessons, which is really uncommon in Jefferson County.  I grew up in an age where the county thought it was more important to get thoughts down on paper instead of using grammatical rules.  Yeah that worked well…until college came around and professors graded on grammar.  But I digress.  I communicated to Mrs. Screwdriver that I didn’t understand the activities.  She told me to read the book.  It had the answers.  No it didn’t.  Yes it did so be quiet and get to work.  If there was ever a teacher to give the middle finger to…

During the short story unit, I had this idea for a story within a story, where good fights evil but it was all a metaphor for somebody making a decision.  The story was really happening in somebody’s mind but it played out as if it were real.  Mrs. Screwdriver looked at me and said that my idea made no sense and it would be foolish to pursue it because nobody would understand it.  I think she was a simpleton and didn’t get it.  So not only were English teachers feminists, but they couldn’t see past their own snootyness and offer an English heathen like me even a few crumbs of hope.

I had Mrs. B. in tenth grade.  She took off points for no reason and was always short tempered with me.  I thought the novels we read were lame and the assignments were useless for real life.  The irony here is that I now teach one of those novels and actually like it.  And real life?  Yeah, English is real life for me.

By the time I reached my Junior year in high school, I hated English.  My love of stories and poetry dwindled because I had heard over and over and over that my ideas didn’t make sense, that when I didn’t understand something I was either goofing off or not trying hard enough.  Obviously, it all changed in eleventh grade.

I had a schedule change within the first week of school and was transfered from one teacher to another.  I walked into Mrs. Mulvany’s class (6th period) with my pass and explained that I was in her class.  Wearing my hat backwords with a punk rock shirt and torn vans probably didn’t provide her with the best first impression.  She demanded to know why I hadn’t come in during access to get my make up work.

“I don’t know.”  Typical.  Way to go Jacobson.  Maybe you shouldn’t have changed your schedule.  She’s just like all the rest.

I worked my tail off to get caught up on the missed assignments.  She complemented me on my hard work.  On our first writing assignment, she told me she liked my ideas.  Second semester, she told me I should pursue writing.  For the first time in English, somebody took the time to explain things to me, to encourage me, to tell me to keep trying.  I took yearbook my senior year (it was my English class…way to set the bar high Jeffco) just so I could have her as a teacher again.  Mrs. Mulvany left teaching shortly after I graduated and became an administrator.  She’s since retired.

I think the fact that I’m an English teacher has a lot to do with Mrs. Mulvany.  I see so many kids that are frustrated with grammar, so many kids like me who just want to be noticed and encouraged.  I know I’m not perfect and I’ve most likely alienated many students like teachers often do.  I feel badly about that but all I can do is keep trying.  Thanks, Mrs. Mulvany.

The story does end somewhat ironically.  Last year I walked down the hall to talk to a fellow teacher about something.  She had a sub.  Yup, Mrs. Screwdriver was walking through the classroom reading sub plans.  I broke into hives and my hairline receded another 3 centimeters.  I ran away as fast as I could.  My vindictive side was just hoping she would walk into my room with a grammar book in hand, asking for help with the day’s lesson.

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9 thoughts on “Hall of Fame: Janice Mulvany

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be this type of teacher for everyt student that walks through into our classroom? However, we are all have different personalities and sometimes they don’t fit well together and so we aren’t the best teacher for some and we are the best for others. From what I’ve read on your blog you are making a differnce in many of your students if only by showing your love of reading and writing and from your experiences I think you are more aware than most of your teachers. Keep up the good work.

    What is it about English teachers? I also didn’t have very good experiences until my Junior and Senior years in high school. I believed I couldn’t write. I had one teacher my senior year who said I could and gave two grades, one for ideas and one for spelling. I actually received my first A in English from her however I still didn’t really believe I could write. I didn’t believe until graduate school. Amazing how long a negative belief can stay with you.

  2. You’re so right about the personality thing. Some kids really do think that I’m an idiot. Most probably. You win some and lose some and we can hope that there’s more winning than losing.

    I think overall English people are snooty. I don’t know why, but there is an element of artsy elitism. It isn’t too bad at my school, but some of the people I’ve had classes with in grad school…yikes.

  3. It’s funny how you just click with some teachers. Mine were all history teachers – Mr. Campbell, Mr. Mummert and Mr. O’Donnell. All three of these guys inspired me in different ways, but I think it was Mr. Campbell who keyed me into the fact that history is about stories, and those stories are what make it interesting. Also, he was a riot in class for those quick/awake enough to follow him! Now, most of the non-fiction books that I read are about history, and I am starting to re-discover American history. Beverly and I had talked about it recently, how I had very little interest – probably because of the way it was drilled into our heads every year as facts, dates and names. Now that I’m finding the stories behind the facts, it’s getting a lot more interesting.

    Even though two of my absolute favorite people in the world are English teachers (my wife and my brother), I didn’t have any really good ones in school. Not to say that they were all bad – I never had any that got under my skin like you wrote about, but I didn’t have any truly inspiring ones either. My worst was my sophomore year in college. My two most outstanding memories of his class are (1) of him going on and on about wearing BDU’s (the Air Force camouflage uniform) and how it felt just like wearing pajama’s to work. This really creeped me out because (2) it seemed like at least once a week, we got into the etymology of the “F” word (yup, that one) and how the true, underlying meaning of whatever we were reading was some sort of deviant sexual thing. It sounds like you ran across someone similar in grad school…

    Nice post, I’m off to work on finishing my current reading project – Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples that I inherited from Dad. What can I say, it’s a great story!!

  4. Mr Campbell was funny. I actually find myself doing some of the same things that he did (like telling my students to go to the library on Friday). His was the only history teacher I ever cared for. Like you, it was all about dates, facts, and names. I missed out on the stories. That’s why you need to be a history teacher!!

  5. In history I was lucky, in junior high our teacher even took some us to the East Coast for a history tour. We ate Thanksgiving dinner in Plymouth, walked Freedoms Trail, Old North Church, where the shot heard round the World was fired and went to Liberty Hall, saw the Liberty Bell and more. It was a great trip. In 9th grade we took a walking history tour of Boulder. It was great and good way to show how history is all around us. I always loved history for the stories and the dates were easy for me to memorize. It was easier for me than English.

    So Ted, when are you going to join us in the teaching profession?

  6. You did get lucky, Ski. I got hosed. But that’s okay, I like literature and all that stuff.

  7. Hey Ski, I have always wanted to teach and will most likely end up doing that eventually. Right now though, the plan is to finish my 2 decades to get my air force pension first…that way I can afford help send my 4 kids through college and still live comfortably on a starting teachers salary!!

  8. At least starting teacher’s salaries have gone up, I am now working half time earning more than I did my first working full time! Good luck and Lewis and Clark has an awsome teacher ed. program especially for pre-service teachers. Not that I am biased or anything. An Oregon license is accepted in almost every other state, CO being one of the few that you have to take a different test. One reason I stayed here instead of heading back to CO after I received my MAT.

    Clint’s brother was (is?) looking at retirerment and then he was promoted to Commander and is stationed in Memphsis doing something with assignments. He seems happy for now. Although he keeps asking Clint about jobs at Intel.

  9. There is never a shortage of educational philosophy in my children’s blogs, and I find them excellent reading. It is my hope that in this comment, I don’t come across as agreeing or disagreeing with anyone’s philosophy or with what is the best education for each one of my grandchildren. Ted and Joel are both well-educated, super strong committed Christian men. Mrs. Mulvany and Mr. Campbell played an awesome roll in molding and making them into the successful, godly men they are today. I do not know whether either of those teachers were/are Christians, but I am thankful for the positive influence they had on the boys’ education.

    I find it puzzling that both Jim and I are fascinated by the study of mathematics and applied mathematics (science), but neither son would choose to study mathematics or a science. They always did well in those courses, but their academic passions were elsewhere. Once again, I am thankful for Mrs. Mulvany and Mr. Campbell nurturing those passions when Jim and I were not as well qualified to do so because of our own academic passions.

    The high school teacher who influenced me most was my Algebra I teacher, who talked to the board, got very red if a girl even looked in his general direction, and trembled visibly if a girl spoke to him or asked him a question! Actually it was the whole idea that a variable could be used to represent a number that influenced me much more than that very insecure teacher. It was that same “variable thing” that baffled my classmates and prevented them from experiencing success in Algebra I. I had math in the morning. At lunch I often explained the Algebra I lesson to many of his afternoon students. I so enjoyed seeing them “get it” that I knew I wanted to be a math teacher. I took a rather circuitous route to get there because I attended an engineering college, where peer pressure dictated that the only people who got degrees in education were people who couldn’t get degrees in anything else. As a result, I didn’t start teaching until Joel was in the fifth grade. Like Joel and Ski, there are some kids with whom I connect, and math is a great experience for them; there are some kids with whom I fail, and math continues to be a stumbling block for them. I can only hope that there are more of the former than there are of the latter. I am thankful for most of my students, and I would hope that most of their parents are thankful for my work with their kids.

    So where am I going with this? I think God places children in homes with parents He has handpicked as being the best parents for them. He has given them the wisdom to best educate their children. If parents are seeking His will in educating their children, He will be faithful to provide Mrs. Mulvanys and Mr. Campbells to mold and make those children into the people He’s created them to be for His honor and glory. In addition, God has given some people the wisdom and the desire to be educators. He can do that to Christians and non Christians alike. I pray that God will make more educators into Mrs. Mulvanys and Mr. Campbells for the students with whom they come in contact in any educational setting. Such educators can fuel the passion for the subject without teaching a world view that may or may not contradict that of the parents.

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