It's World Teachers Day: who changed your life?

It’s World Teachers Day. And I’m a little distressed by how little mention I have seen of it flying around on my Facebook feed. But then, what do I expect?

CATEGORY: EducationOnce upon a time we celebrated teachers for their wisdom and commitment to making their communities better places. Now, in addition, we celebrate them for their superhuman perseverance in the face of utterly overwhelming odds. Some of the stories I’ve heard from teachers border on the harrowing. And I’m just talking about what they’re expected to do in the classroom. Never mind what those who work in de facto war zones face.

It is hard to be truly dedicated to something that your society is at best indifferent, and at worst is actively hostile toward. But the truth is that here in the US education isn’t much valued – not unless we can see a clear, cold, pragmatic financial payoff. If there’s no ROI, then it isn’t important.

That’s our reality at the policy level. But we all know the other reality, don’t we? Because if you’re worth a damn – as a professional, as a community leader, as a parent, as a friend, as a basic human being – odds are pretty good there’s a teacher in your past you can trace a direct line back to. Someone who opened your mind up to possibilities you didn’t know exist. Someone who changed the direction of your life. Someone who got it when nobody else did.

So today, on World Teachers Day, I want to say a few words about some teachers who made a difference in my life.

Dr. Jim Booth, University of Maryland University College

Dr. Jim Booth, University of Maryland University College

Dr. Jim Booth: Jim is my colleague here at S&R and I have known him since 1975, when he was my English I teacher at Ledford High School. Jim introduced me to literature, to the power of words. And I have been a writer ever since – a poet, an occasional fictioneer, a blogger, a business and marketing professional writer, you name it. I have also been a teacher of several writing disciplines at a number of universities.

I sometimes want to choke Jim and everyone else who suckered me into such a hateful craft as writing, I admit. If you’re a writer you know what I mean. But there is no argument that I’m not a much better person in nearly every respect for his influence. He gave me Eliot. He gave me Yeats. He gave me Donne and Shakespeare. And in doing so, he gave me damned near everything you need to cultivate a worthy soul.

It is almost certainly true that he has been, along with my grandparents (who took me in and raised me as their own when my parents split) one of the three most important people in the history of my life.

Thank you, Jim.

Dr. Edwin Wilson, Wake Forest University

Dr. Edwin Wilson, Wake Forest University

Dr. Edwin Wilson: Dr. Wilson, Professor of English and the Provost at Wake Forest University, was maybe the most beloved human being I ever met. His passion for literature was transfixing. I had him for Blake, Yeats & Thomas and while the material was hellishly hard (have you ever actually done a deep dive into Blake’s really complex and less known work?), his lectures were pure joy. The exams not so much…

I will always remember Dr. Wilson reading Yeats and Thomas, especially, inhabiting the lyrical magic of the words on the page. He made those words live like they never had before. Two years later, when I was taking a couple classes to finish up my degree, I paid extra to audit that class again just to hear him read those writers.

Thank you, Dr. Wilson.

Dr. Jerry Burger, University of Santa Clara

Dr. Jerry Burger, University of Santa Clara

Dr. Jerry Burger: At the end of my junior year at Wake I switched majors from English to Psychology (because not all the profs in the English department were Dr. Wilson). I switched in large part because I had taken Dr. Burger for Intro and had fallen in love with his speciality, Social Psych. I followed Intro up with two more classes taught by Dr. Burger – Social and Personality Theory. When all was said and done I had become a lot more dedicated observer of human behavior. The things we do that we don’t know we’re doing… One of my greatest strengths is the ability to figure out what people are up to (unless it’s a woman I’m interested in – there are no classes that can help me past that particular blind spot, I fear), and it has served me well in ways I can’t begin to quantify. To this day I find myself referring back to things I learned in his classes as I assess the human dynamics in which I find myself involved.

Thank you, Jerry.

These are three, and there are more. I’ll try to remember to write about the others next year.

Know a teacher? Send him/her an email today – or maybe even pick up the phone. Unless you are yourself a teacher you can’t imagine how gratifying it is to hear from a former student that you helped change a life for the better. When you don’t get paid, when you have to work insane hours, when you aren’t valued by your society and community, little things like this can make your whole week.

Also, when you go to the polls next month, keep in mind who on the ballot is working for your children and who is working against them….

One comment

  • Bob Underwood in high school and Jackson J. Speilvogel in college. There’s a few teachers I remember for negatively impacting my education as well, but that’s not what Teacher Day is for.

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