Monday, October 13, 2014

Life-long learning, a teacher's impact, and pizza

My family tried a new restaurant last week. I'd been excited to visit Embers by the Lake, a pizzeria out in the country about half an hour away from our house, since they opened this summer. Although I had heard great things about the food and the atmosphere, that wasn't the only reason I wanted to visit Embers. It's run by two of my favorite middle school teachers.

Photo by Carrie Scozzaro, INLANDER
Mr. Hammons was my seventh grade math teacher. At that point, math was not my thing. I had struggled with learning my multiplication facts and felt like I would never be good at math. He was my first teacher to present math in context. I remember a project where he challenged students to design a house and calculate the cost of windows, flooring, and other materials. I had fun with the project and I willingly did calculations that I would have avoided if they were presented as bare numbers in a textbook. In fact, a discussion about compound interest in his class inspired me, a math-a-phobic middle schooler, to go home and attempt to calculate the payments on my neighbors' crazy new boat even though it wasn't an assignment for class.

I never took a class from Miss Roletto (now Mrs. Hammons), but I remember her as one of the friendliest teachers in my middle school. She was always out in the hallway between classes talking with students. She was also one of the teachers who attended our middle school's Natural Helpers retreat the same year I did. It was a great program training students and teachers to help others. Now that I'm a teacher, I really admire each teacher who gave up a weekend with family to tackle serious middle school issues through the Natural Helpers program.

Our Embers experience was terrific. My little boy was excited because it was superhero theme night there and he got to wear a cape and mask to dinner. Our server (Captain America) happened to be a former student of mine. And my former teachers kept busy as Mr. Hammons manned the wood-fired brick oven and Mrs. Hammons greeted diners and checked in with each table. The pizza was terrific - we had a sausage pizza and one with Gorgonzola cheese and mushrooms.

After we cleaned our plates, Mr. Hammons stopped by our table to ask how we enjoyed everything. I just had to ask him how he learned to make pizza. He said that he took one class, watched YouTube videos, and practiced a lot before the restaurant opened. The practice paid off, because he is making outstanding pizza. After helping so many learn during his years as a teacher and principal, his commitment to lifelong learning is on display at Embers.

Dessert at Embers is an experience as well. You make your own s'mores at the firepit out in front of the restaurant. As Mrs. Hammons started the fire for us, she commented that our waitress remembered me as a fun teacher. I told her how great it is to run into my former students and see what they are up to. She reminded me that my former teachers have enjoyed seeing me grow up and come back to teach in the school district that educated me.

It's amazing how nourishing pizza at Embers can be!

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