The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Book Review: Because Of Mr. Terupt

Last year for our community’s “Battle of the Books” competition, several of my students read a story called Because Of Mr. Terupt. Every single student who read it insisted that I read it because, according to them, I am Mr. Terupt. I accepted the compliment without fully understanding it, but because I had a huge pile of books to get through, I never got around to it until yesterday.

I finished it this morning.

It has been a very long time since I have stayed up way later than I should to read a book. It has been a long time since I have woken up far earlier than I should after staying up so late to finish a book. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time I did before just now. Because Of Mr. Terupt is just one of those books. It is told in the voices of seven different fifth grade students who are in a classroom with a teacher who is young, new, and full of crazy ideas. Time to learn estimation? Do it by figuring out approximately how many blades of grass are in a soccer field! Need to learn how plants grow? Plant your own seeds and take care of them, feeding them whatever you want! A student is being mean to others? Wait for the others to realise the strength in numbers. You want your students to learn compassion? Read them Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars and collaborate with the self-contained special needs class in the building.

As I read this wonderful story, I thought about what I do in the classroom and I thought about why my students feel that I am just like Mr. Terupt. And then I thought about the teachers win my own life who had the same kind of impact on me when I was younger. In somewhat chronological order, then:

  • Ms. McNamara, my fourth grade teacher. She is the reason I am a fourth grade teacher today. She helped me awaken my potential, discover my talents, and realise that I really could accomplish anything I set my heart on. She let my best friends and I work together in collaborative groups (provided we actually worked), she taught us to explore the world around us and to take risks.
  • Sister Quinn, my Sunday School teacher for more years than I can count. I don’t remember a single specific lesson she taught us over the years, but I do remember knowing that she sincerely cared about each and every one of us.
  • Mr. Bell, my eighth grade science teacher. He was a kooky guy, he was a weirdo, he was a geek, and he was my teacher. He was also my Scholastic Bowl coach and let me and one of my best friends come back to visit from time to time and take on the entire middle school team, just for fun.
  • Mr. Madsen, my freshman English teacher. He walked around with a yard stick that he’d used as a pointer for over 25 years. He taught us to love Shakespeare, to appreciate a variety of literature, and to have fun. He taught us that if we ever needed to use the bathroom in an emergency it would be better for us to just go rather than coming up to ask him and having an accident. (I have the same policy with my students.) And he taught us to avoid words like “stuff” and “thing” when describing different situations.
  • Mr. Tallman, my high school band director. He was crazy. He was passionate. He would sweat like crazy during rehearsals. He laughed, he joked, he sang, he danced. He was also my Scholastic Bowl coach. And he assisted the choir director, often taking us boys to work on our parts. He challenged us to tackle incredibly difficult music and guided us in overcoming obstacles.
  • Mr. Hershberger, my high school… you know, I never had him in a class, but he was still a teacher for me. He was the drama department director and taught me everything I know about set construction and using a follow spot (also known as a spot light). He and I worked closely together on every play and every musical for four years. He mentored me and taught me how to mentor others. He allowed me to make mistakes and then taught me how to correct them.
  • Mr. Brunner, my high school calculus teacher. I never would have thought “advanced mathematics” and “fun” would be used in the same sentence to describe a class, but that is the only way I can describe AP Honors Calculus with Mr. Brunner. It was the most challenging class of my life. I struggled to understand the concepts, I spent hours with my friends on the weekends working on complex mathematical problems, but we came to class, we learned together, and we had fun! It is because of Mr. Brunner that I have a shirt that proudly proclaims my love for the Greek letter theta.
  • Mom and Dad, my mother and father. They have taught me throughout my entire life, through their counsel, their advice, their examples. When I messed up, they patiently helped me understand what I had done wrong and why it was wrong. When I succeeded, they joined in the celebrations. They came to nearly every performance, every competition, every event that was important. They pushed me to solve my own problems but have always made sure that I know that they are there to help whenever I need it.

To these men and women, my heartfelt thanks and gratitude. They have all helped me become the man I am today and the teacher I am today. I hope that I will always make them proud.

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