Greg Sellars teaches 8th grade math at the middle school where a friend of mine works. Hanging above the SMART Board in Greg’s room is a quote by William James which reads, "The teacher who succeeds in getting himself loved by his students will obtain results which would otherwise be impossible to secure."
According to my friend, this quote encapsulates Greg’s educational philosophy. Greg really “gets” his students. His room is very informal (students call him Mr. Greg) yet he rarely has discipline issues—the kids think Mr. Greg is just super “chill.” Greg’s only taught for three years, but he’s had a fair amount of success in the classroom with the majority of his students passing the state mandated test for math, and his students love him.
Sounds like a dream teacher, right?
Except my friend, who also teaches 8th grade math at the same school, had a higher percentage of his students score “Advanced” on the state math test this past year. All this without allowing students to call him by his first name or eat lunch with him in his classroom.
Two teachers. Two philosophies. Nearly identical results.
But only one of them was the subject of an essay written by an 8th grade girl in response to the prompt: Choose a person you admire and who has influenced you a great deal. What do you admire most about this person and why?
Here’s her essay verbatim:
I admire a man whose name is Gregory Joseph Sellars, because he is a great teacher that always knows how to make me smile. Even on my worst days, he finds a way to make me love him even more than I already do. Which, I don’t think is even remotely possible! Sometimes we have our disagreements, but he’s always there for me when I need him… Well, at school at least. Sometimes, I think to myself that he’s my guardian angel but, I don’t know if those even exist so I’m not going to get my hopes up. I admire him because he’s a very loving person and he cares about everyone no matter what. In my opinion, he’s is the most sensitive, funny, compassionate, and special person in the world and I wouldn’t trade him for anything else. I appreciate him more than anyone could fathom and I admire him over anyone… maybe except my mom but otherwise, I draw a blank. I remember once, around the end of 2014 that I came to school and I had an angry face. That day, something had happened and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. So , I walked into my math class(that’s the subject he teaches) and I burst into tears. I just started to cry and I didn’t know why, then I realized that someone was hugging me.. I looked up and he was staring down at me as if I was a fragile piece of porcelain doll. I continued to cry into his arms and after a while I started to feel bad about wetting his shirt, so I stopped. He asked me if I was okay and I confirmed that I was. He then said okay, and walked away. After that moment, I couldn’t focus in class. I felt as if the world was spitting out sprinkles and rainbows at me! It was the best feeling EVER!! I felt loved and cared for, which is a feeling I couldn’t describe then or now, because it’s too powerful of a feeling to be able to comprehend. The fact that he made me feel this way made me admire him, and it made me love him. Gregory Joseph Sellars is the person I admire(and love), because he first loved me.
On top of all the other profoundly creepy aspects of this essay, am I the only one creeped out by the fact that this student knows Mr. Greg’s full name? Who else wants to make a call to the authorities now?
Perhaps you think I’m overreacting. “What’s the big deal?” you may say. “It’s not as if he encourages this behavior. She’s just a teen who feels very strongly about her teacher, and she’s grateful for his help and attention. She probably likes school and works hard for him.”
Maybe. But Mr. Greg has done nothing to communicate what is and isn’t appropriate within the student-teacher relationship. Consequently, this student thinks this is an acceptable way to describe a teacher in an essay that will be read by other adults. To every other teacher at the school, this essay raised major red flags.
I’m not saying we have a budding Humbert Humbert here, but what he’s doing is still wrong. The students think Mr. Greg is their pal who just happens to be really good at math. What’s going to happen when he inadvertently hurts Isabella’s feelings, or doesn’t measure up to her expectations as her “guardian angel?” Do you know what middle school girls do to get back at boys who hurt them?
It’s not pretty.
By the way, neither is Winnie. Remember my friend Winnie? I don’t know how the yearbook’s going for her, but I can tell you she’s made the same mistake of trying to win student approval, with scarier results.