Thanking Teachers

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.

Continuing Ed

I recently took a course.  It was an adult enrichment class, offered through a local community college.  It wasn’t for credit and it had only a modest fee.  The topic doesn’t really matter here—it’s something I’ve written about from time to time—but it’s the taking of a class that’s important.  As much as I believe in lifelong learning, finding time to take a class during my busy schedule is a major feat.  Were it not for my family urging, insisting even, that I sign up I would’ve probably let it go.  I’m glad I didn’t.  Like many such classes, I suppose, the other class members were mostly retirees.  It does me good to see people remaining curious in their post-work years.  Some people disparage community colleges, but I value any educational institution that commits to truly educating people.  Not all of them do.

Some religious institutions focus more on indoctrination.  Indeed, the word “indoctrination” includes the very word “doctrine.”  Such places often use faculty who went through schools who manage accreditation because accrediting bodies have to handle religion with kid gloves.  (The course I took wasn’t about religion.)  Religious institutions are quick to cry “Persecution!” should their lack of rigor be pointed out.  Freedom of religion is a double-edged sword.  A society without it ends up killing a lot of people for what they believe, but societies with it get taken advantage of by predatory religions.  When your faculty can claim the title “doctor” it’s easy to believe that you equal a Yale or Harvard.  Even when the faculty degrees are from religious institutions accredited by those who fear offending the religious.

No, my course was offered through a community college.  It was a non-credit course (I really can’t afford one of those in either time or money) but it was an opportunity to learn.  It was also a Zoom course which is good because I don’t think I should be out driving too late.  I sometimes wonder if a local community college might be interested in such a course on religion and horror.  Not for credit, of course.  If anyone would sign up for such a class.  I’ve been researching and writing on the topic for several years now, but religion’s that kid on the playground nobody wants to play with.  Partially, I suspect, because some religions make up their own rules and then go on to damage society by them.  Or because it’s kind of embarrassing in our secular world.  Maybe I should take a class on how to make such a topic appealing.