Was your favorite teacher male or female, youngish or older?


by David Safier

This is a question I'd never contemplated before reading a column in today's NY Times, and I'm throwing it out to any commenters who want to jump in. When you think of your favorite teacher, is the teacher male or female? You might throw in whether you considered her/him a younger or an older teacher.

This question was raised in a column by Jennifer Finney Boylan, who spent 12 years teaching college as a man, then 13 as a transgender woman, which gives her a rare perspective on teaching, learning and gender. Boylan raises the question, do students' teachers tend to be the same gender as they are? It's only one issue in the column, but it's one I'd never considered before.

So, chime in if you wish. You might indicate whether you're male or female, since it's not always clear from the name commenters use.

I'll begin. I can't say I have a single favorite teacher, but when I think of my favorites as a group, they're all male and old enough to qualify as father figures — even when I was in college. I have to say, that surprises me.

Your turn.


  1. Mrs. Mary Wedge, my fourth grade teacher, was my inspiration for becoming a teacher. Ten or so years later, a professor at U of A, Bradford Smith, made Astronomy come alive for me (although I must admit to spending way too much class time focusing on Dr. Smith…huge crush).

    Fun post, David.

  2. Hands down, Mrs. Burch, my fourth grade teacher; she was the one who gave me this enormous book (relatively speaking) called ‘The Hobbit’ as a special thing for me to read.

    (Mainly, I think in retrospect, to keep me busy while doing reading stuff with the rest of my class who was at 4th grade reading level instead of 9th…)

  3. My favorite teacher taught high school physics: Dr. Lois Blondeau. I wasn’t far enough along in math to take a calculus-based physics class, but she encouraged me to do it anyway. She arranged for another student to tutor a group of us. She answered a lot of silly questions about calculus. She made us believe we could do it, showed us how, and then we did it.

  4. Some wonderful reminiscences here and on Facebook. It looks like gender and age aren’t playing much of a factor in people’s choices, but it’s clear how important teachers are to their students, and how vivid memories are decades later.

    More! More!

  5. My two favorite teachers were my 6th grade teacher, a female about 30-35 years old, and my 8th grade Social Studies teacher, a male who was right out of college and about 24 years old. Mrs. Silverman, my 6th grade teacher, was a very nurturing motherly type figure who made the biggest deal out of your slightest accomplishment. My 5th grade teacher was a horror who demeaned kids, so I left that classroom in a very vulnerable state. Mrs. Silverman was a breath of fresh air at a time when I really needed it. She was very musical (her mother had been an opera singer) and had a piano in the classroom. Without really a reason needed, she would burst into song in the middle of a lesson and run to the piano and play as the whole class sang along. I learned a lot that year in a very FUN environment!

    My 8th grade Social Studies experience was very different. As a bright student I was placed in an advanced 8th grade class. Mr. Snyder treated students much more maturely on an intellectual level than any teacher I had before. He expected us to think on a higher level. We read “How the Great Religions Began” and “The Ugly American” along with other books that I considered ‘very grown-up’ and discussed them on an intellectual level that I had never been exposed to before. It was the early 60s and JFK was president. We watched his press conferences on TV and analyzed them. Fidel Castro had taken power in Cuba just a few years before and we discussed in depth whether that was good or bad for Cuba, and for the United States. Mr. Snyder awakened my lifelong interest in politics and forced me to think in a way that I had never done before. His class was intellectually challenging and I loved it.

  6. Hands-down favorite teacher was for high school physics, male about 35-40ish (I’m female), but the others who are close seconds were female 30-40-50 in the early and middle grades, and a 35-40ish band teacher (male) throughout elementary school. It really wasn’t until I was teaching myself that I realized what a TERRIFIC group of teachers I had been fortunate enough to have (in Phoenix in the 60’s). Thanks for the opportunity to recall them. What they all had in common was a sincere interest in their students, and that is something that cannot be learned or faked.

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