Daily Conversation #13 — Mrs. Tombragel

Me and Mrs. Tombragel

Day #13

Today, after a 4 day respite and taking a step back to reconsider this whole project (discussed here), I spoke with my former 7th and 8th grade and also one of my favorite teachers of all time, Mrs. Tombragel. It’s somehow been 8 (!!!!) years since I’ve had her and nearly the same amount of time since I’ve been at good ole Gray Middle School.

It was awesome returning back to the school that once seemed huge. It was a nice reminder of how fast time flies and how I need to recognize that more in the moment.

I had Mrs. Tombragel for 7th grade back when she was Ms. Gough (pronounced like cough). Mrs. Tombragel was always one of the most understanding and dedicated teachers. To this day, she’s one of the most influential on my life, which explains why it was important to me to get the chance to talk with her for this project.

Mrs. Tombragel has had a first-hand perspective into how kids nowadays are so much different than how we were nearly a decade ago.

Talking with her today made me realize that when I was in middle school, we had Razr phones, minutes, a limited amount of texts, wifi in public places was non-existent, and arguably most importantly, the only social media was Myspace. Back then, we had small dramas over who was on whom’s top 8 friends.

Today, these youngin’s have iPhones that have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and wifi everywhere they go.

I asked her first how she thinks that’s affected them. She said that she’s noticed that their attention spans are much shorter, they’re poorer at communication, and they learn at a slower rate.

She said that she’s also noticed that parents of students seem to be divorced at a higher rate.

Neither of these two things surprised me all that much.

What she said that surprised me was that there’s been a shift in who’s to blame for students struggling or acting out. Students used to be held accountable, but now? Not so much; parents are blaming the students’ teachers for the students’ behavior.

This surprised me. It made me wonder something: is the pervasiveness of handheld and powerful technology not only altering how we think and feel ourselves, but entirely our behavior as well? I’m really not sure (probably, yes), but the reason I ask is because the way students have changed makes sense; there’s a lot of evidence to support this. Furthermore, is it affecting even fully formed brains to the point where there’s a noticeable difference for teachers on how parents act?

Probably the most alarming difference that we discussed is the vast prescribing of anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, and ADHD medications in these young kids. Since this isn’t a scientific article, don’t cite me or hold me accountable, but I recall learning in the neurochemistry section of my biochemistry class that the brain isn’t fully formed until nearly the mid-20s (alcohol and tobacco also isn’t good for this, obviously). These kids are 12–13 years old. I’d almost go as far as to say that’s heartbreaking.

We’re not certain how these kids will be affected in the future by technology — primarily the immediate access to social media and also the majority of human knowledge — let alone these brain-altering neurochemical drugs. This is unnerving.

(That was a bit of a tangent, sorry.)

As a teacher, obviously Mrs. Tombragel has to adapt to these changing times. It’s not possible to simply tell the students to focus longer and learn better, so I asked what she did to acquiesce to the student’s changing needs.

She said that she focuses more on group projects, videos, and just ensuring that the pace is changed every 10–15 minutes.

This led to another discussion: the education system and how it hinders certain types of students.

She gave me a quote (not her main one):

Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will spend its whole life believing it’s stupid

This quote perfectly sums up the most distressing thing about our education system. Plain and simple, there are students who do not function well in this learning environment. But instead of developing a different plan for them, they’re lost in the system and sometimes even fail.

Teachers can only do so much to help those students––and Mrs. Tombragel is one of the teachers that understands this well and does a fantastic job of helping those students.

She gave me a quote that she believed was critical to her teaching style and I completely agree:

The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don’t tell you what to see.

We then discussed her biggest lesson she’s learned from teaching and the biggest lesson she tries to teach.

Her biggest lesson: Treat every kid like they mean the world to someone (because they do).

The biggest lesson she stresses: Always be true to yourself.

These are two valuable lessons that can be applied to everybody.

Enjoy the little things, because when you look back, they’re the big things.

Recognizing this is one of the first and biggest steps to becoming a better person.

Creating the neural connections that actually allow you to live your life everyday this way is the only other…and far bigger step to becoming the best person you can be.

Thanks so much for talking, Mrs. Tombragel. You’re a fantastic teacher and an even better person and role model. I enjoyed catching up after way too many years.

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