Every Sunday I wake up before 8am, make a pot of coffee, and sit on the couch to watch CBS Sunday Morning. This has been my Sunday ritual for the better part of a decade and a half.
This morning they reported a story about a music teacher in Ponca City, Oklahoma who directed one of the best choral groups in the country for 30 years. His students surprised him by getting back together for an event in his honor. It was obvious that this man was one of those teachers who truly inspire their students. He was one of those educators kids remember for a lifetime. He changed lives forever.
That got me thinking; who actually inspired me? I’ve had good teachers, but mostly horrible teachers. Throughout high school, I can remember only one teach I actually liked. Most were biding their time until retirement or they were coaches who were forced to teach a class and didn’t care about what they were teaching as long as they finished early to get to whatever sport they were coaching. But I can’t totally blame it on the teachers. I was determined to become a rockstar. I had the mullet to prove it too!
In college it was even more hit and miss. I liked most of my professors but holy cow did I have some really bad ones. One was so bad I actually thought about taking him to small claims court for tuition reimbursement. Oh, I know I wouldn’t win, but I wanted to press the issue of just how horrible he was.
However, there was one who truly stood out. I didn’t know it at the time, but I guess I can say she kind of changed my life.
Her name was Elizabeth Alexander and she was my English Comp II professor at Oklahoma City Community College. She was not a lifelong educator and teaching wasn’t her first profession, but literature was definitely her first love and she came to class every day to let us know how important the written word is to life in general.
I had just returned to college because I received a letter explaining that my GI Bill was going to expire. That Comp II class was one of the first I took because I had a long, long way to go to complete my degree. What Elizabeth taught me was invaluable. She taught me what no high school teacher ever did: how to write, or more precisely, how to put my thoughts on paper. I know, it’s sad that I never learned but that’s the state of our primary education system in Oklahoma.
Elizabeth taught us how to grab onto a concept and run with it. It doesn’t always work and most ideas I have still swirl around my head because I can’t get them into a readable form, but what she taught us was how to get started. It was eye opening and I loved every minute of it. And, I made an ‘A’ in the class!
It has now been over sixteen years since I took that class yet I still remember it like it was yesterday. I still remember her passion for Shakespeare and how her eyes would light up when we were critiquing Poe or Kafka. She was enthusiastic and had an absolute passion for her the written word.
As I look at the state of things in this country, it’s obvious we need more people like her. We need educators who can make us want to read. Otherwise we elect presidents like Trump, and that’s a serious problem!
Who is your hero?