Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

My favorite teacher Mr. Brown in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week


A few months into my sophomore year of high school, I earned my first D on an assignment.

It was an essay for my honors English class — I don’t remember what the paper was on, or why I was graded down, but I do remember seeing red slashes marking up the page and feeling my stomach sink.

I was mystified. I had never earned anything lower than a B on an assignment before — and English was my favorite class. A D on a hard math assignment or a chemistry workbook might make sense, but English was what I was supposed to be good at.

After shedding a few tears, I met with Mike Brown, my then-English teacher at Middleton High School.

I walked into his classroom sheepishly. I couldn’t bear the thought that I had disappointed him. Head down, I asked what I needed to do to make up the grade.

And then he laughed.

“I’m not here to make sure you get good grades,” he said. “I’m here to help you understand the world a little better. So we’re going to talk about this paper and you’re going to rewrite it with a better understanding of the world, and if, in the process, you get a better grade, so be it.”

Ten years later, those words still stick with me.

Before that conversation, I believed getting good grades meant I was learning. I believed I was a good student because I followed directions, sat still and listened in class.

But Mr. Brown challenged that norm.

He taught me that sometimes, you have to fail to learn.

He taught me how to think critically, and to challenge the dominant voices around me.

He taught me that sometimes, people in authority make mistakes, and it’s okay to call them out on it.

I moved through my sophomore, junior and senior years of high school with these lessons in mind. Sometimes, I was penalized for challenging rules I believed were unjust — like requiring girls to wear skirts (I wore dress pants) for speech in my junior year — or challenging opinions I heard students discussing in the classroom.

I served as Mr. Brown’s teacher aide during my junior and senior year of high school. When I graduated, he gave me his best copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God, my favorite book that we read my sophomore year.

In the end, I don’t remember what final grade I received in Mr. Brown’s class. But I do remember that he — alongside Mr. Brian Mattison, Mrs. Peggy Rabe, Mr. Lewey Dean, Mrs. Mona Oxford-Lyman, Mr. Bryan Swygart, Mr. Alex Maxwell, Mrs. Tracey Houston and many, many other educators and former educators in the Middleton School District — taught me how to better understand the world.

For them, I’ll be forever grateful.

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber, a former reporter with Ed News that focused on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley.

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