Those who know me personally are often surprised to hear that my high school gym teacher was one of the most influential people in my life. It is true. He, and a handful of others I can still remember by name, set me on the path of knowing that I should be a teacher. It is a very important profession, habitually underpaid. To hold the future in your hands is a responsibility like no other. I complained, like all kids do, about having to go to school. Once there, however, I was fascinated by the learning. I still am. I think of those women and men who really wanted to mold young minds. Who knew they’d never be paid as well as their peers, but who had a message worth preserving.
I suppose I’m thinking about them because I recently watched Dead Poets Society again. It’s a poignant thing to do since Robin Williams’ death, but the movie makes a powerful statement about teachers. Knowledge, once planted, grows. I don’t name people on this blog unless they say I can, and although I’ve connected with a few high school teachers through Facebook, I don’t bother them in retirement. I can say, though, that one English teacher, my German teacher, a couple history teachers, a math teacher, and my gym teacher made significant impacts. The math teacher, of course, helped me realize that my thinking process veers in quite a different direction from equations and proofs. Ironically, now I tend to think that way and often think I could’ve done it, but I needed several years for the ideas to settle into place.
Thinking of them by name may not be a daily occurrence, but in my actions I live out what they taught. I’m not sure what leads a young person to pursue a teaching career, but clearly some of them have gifts that make them influential in lives long after the classroom relationship ends. The young mind is receptive in the way that a more experienced one tends not to be. Even as we reach our teens the natural confidence of youth seems to take over for many. We might still, however, listen to those with more experience. Teachers, under-paid and often having to take summer jobs to makes ends meet, are almost as influential as peers. The twenty years of my life from the age five on were under the sway of teachers. Time set aside for learning. It wasn’t nearly long enough.