Saturday, August 10, 2013


My wife posed me a simple question as we slogged our way through traffic in Philly today: "Which teacher was your greatest inspiration?" 

Immediately I listed Mr. Wall, then Dr. Jones, then Mr. Breidinger . . . wait, Mr. Bollinger, then Dr. Birkner, then . . . 

Realizing that such a long list implied indecisiveness I returned to my first two, Mr. Wall and Dr. Jones. The former was my English teacher in 9th and 12th grades; the latter was my band director at college. I'll always give Mr. Wall the credit for not just motivating me to become an effective writer, but also for showing me what an inspired teacher can be in a classroom. Dr. Jones was the biggest reason I chose to go to Gettysburg College, and he inspired me to be part of a group in which I take more pride than any other of which I was a part, the band at Gettysburg. He taught me a great deal about how one works with older kids. Those two, more than anyone else, inform how I act as a professional. 

It's ironic, perhaps, that a pair of teachers outside of history and Social Studies are those inspirational figures. One of my great blessings is that I was a student of an army of great teachers, and I can count the number of poor or ineffective teachers I've had on one hand. My history teachers were outstanding teachers, showing me the discipline, habits of mind, and skills needed to be a historian and teacher. They didn't inspire me to love history and make it my academic field. In fact, my passion for history goes back so far I cannot clearly attribute it to anything and must assume it was my parents' influence. Instead, they molded and informed me. 

I'm glad Sherry got me to thinking of this, for I sometimes forget that I'm not teaching the next generation of historians or social scientists. The minority of the kids I teach will go into those fields. But I still have remarkable potential to inspire them, and I can dispense with the mindset that I'm losing them to other fields when they come back to me to share with me good news of their ventures in music, biochemistry, and art. 

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