Ode to a Great Teacher


I learned that my favorite high school teacher died recently. I regret that I didn't make more of an effort to keep in touch with him over the years. The last time I saw him was probably when I returned home after my first year of graduate school. That was a lifetime ago. I could have at least written to him or something. I remember thinking that he probably had so many students over the years that he couldn't possibly be that interested in me. Of course, I realize now how stupid that was on my part. Now that its too late, I'd rather focus on what made this teacher special.

I've been fortunate to have many good teachers over the years, but he was one of the few truly great ones. Putting my finger on what made him so great is nearly impossible. I guess I'd have to say that he was the only teacher I had in high school who consistently treated his students as adults. Rather than talking down to us, he spoke with us as if we understood what he was talking about. And you know what? It had the effect of making us work harder to understand.

More than any other person in my life at that time, I credit him with teaching me how to think. He made no secret of his opinions on various current events. In fact, I don't recall another teacher in high school ever discussing anything that came close to revealing their political leanings. I am sure they knew they would get in trouble for doing so. This teacher did some of that and did get in some trouble for it, but he also made it safe for us to express our views. The only requirement was that we needed to be able to make a rational case for them. If you could defend your opinion, it was welcome. If not, then you probably needed to invest more thought in developing it.

He was the one who first introduced me to philosophy, even though the class I had with him was a foreign language class. I mention this because it was philosophy more than any other content area that led me to discover atheism. Even though I was already an atheist by this point in time, I had no idea what it was called or what it meant until I began reading whatever I could find in the philosophy section of the local used bookstore.

I would have been bound for college even if I'd have never met him, but he - more than anyone else - motivated me to take college seriously from the beginning. It was his influence that led me to view college as being about educating the whole of my person and not merely a stepping stone to a job.

I am saddened by his death, but I am also determined to repay him in the only way I now can: by more fully being the person he helped me to discover.