Andrew Jenks And Jonnie Penn Give A Shout-Out To Good Teachers

"Either the kids are getting stupider every year, or something is wrong in the education system."

That's a quote from an education reformer in the new film, "Waiting For Superman," which audaciously takes on the state of public education in America. It's a tough look inside our school system, and the consequences that can result from its limitations.

We think "Waiting For Superman" is a must-see for everyone, whether you're currently a student bounding forward into an unknown future, or a parent who simply wants the best for their child. Two of our show cast members are also on board with educating people about the power of good schooling, which is why we asked them to write a blog post describing a teacher who made a lasting impression on them. Below, read what Andrew Jenks ("World of Jenks") and Jonnie Penn ("The Buried Life") had to say about their most memorable teacher, then sound off in the comments about a mentor who you found inspiring!

***

My formal education was good, but not great. I was often taught through the memorization of factoids, anecdotes or equations in order to ace or pass a test. But after years of constant regurgitation, who knew that one negative word would change my outlook on the world?

During my sophomore year at NYU (which ended up being my last), I took a class taught by Professor Aviva Slesin called "The Art of Documentary." For a school that offered minimal courses on the genre, she shouldered a large responsibility in introducing a documentary-oriented curriculum. I mean, who thinks documentaries are sexy? Not me.

In each class, we would watch a documentary and then follow it with an in-depth discussion. As the year progressed, I picked up on a theme that Professor Slesin always preached. In explaining how to get our work seen and heard, she ingrained in my head to accept, embrace and be galvanized by a single word: "No." She taught us that while the word may have an inherently negative connotation, it can be spun into a powerful motivator. And that for filmmakers, "no" is often the best starting point.

"No only means you have to work that much harder," Professor Slesin would say. Thanks to her, when I tried to move into a nursing home to produce my first documentary, "Room 335," I didn’t become discouraged by the nearly 30 assisted living facilities that said they would NEVER grant me access to film at their facility, much less move in and become a resident at the age of 19. Then, when I prepared to direct my second documentary, "The Zen Of Bobby V," for eight months in Japan, I knew that all of the networks that said "no" would only drive me more to scramble, search and find a place that would say "yes."

Professor Slesin said the word "no" with a smile, sometimes even flaying her hands. She would passionately tell us that for those who take "no" seriously, life will be difficult. For those that use "no" as a head start, life can be whatever they wish.

--Andrew Jenks

Mr. Savage was the toughest grading teacher at GNS High School in Victoria, BC--quite fittingly, given his name. His physics class was a thing of legend for new students. Many A+ students entered; few left. He had white hair and the presence of an old Scottish brigadier general. When necessary--like when you didn't properly follow an assignment or when you asked a question that had already been answered in class--he would ream you out in front of everyone.

Mr. Savage asked the most of our class, and more often than not, he got it. He was the Ferris Bueller of teachers. Whether you knew him or not, you had to respect him. Granted, he was a little less fun than Ferris, but you still had to like him for sticking to his ideals. He held the bar high, and if you wanted to get over it, you had to work.

--Jonnie Penn