October 5. “The mediocre teacher tells; the good teacher explains; the superior teacher demonstrates; the great teacher inspires.” (William Arthur Ward)
Earlier this year a friend of mine died. I had known this friend for the better part of 30 years. His family and mine had done a lot of our growing up together as his children baby sat mine. Our two families were part of a larger group of friends that did monthly activities together in the late 1980s and 1990s. We worked on Church festivals together, spent New Year’s eves together, and watched Super Bowls together.
This friend was a teacher. He taught High School biology to two of my children later in his career before retiring. But his teaching went beyond just what happened in the classroom. He was a teacher in all parts of his life, and he was a great teacher.
Throughout the time that I knew him, I always saw him teaching something to someone. Whether it was a father showing his daughters and son how to live, or teaching a friend how to do something cool and fun, he was always teaching. One of his passions in life was fly fishing, and he had men who came to him to learn how to tie flies. It was painstaking, precise work, and he was a patient teacher. These weren’t students assigned to him in a class, these were adults who sought him out. Some had met him through the classroom, but others just knew him from his reputation.
The week after he died from cancer, my wife and I and another couple went to the Relay for Life in our local community. We decorated a luminary bag for their night walk with his name and picture on it. After listening to some heart wrenching and warming stories, we went on a silent walk with hundreds of other people. The entire 1.5 mile walk was lined with luminary bags, each with the name of someone who had fought cancer. As we were walking I noticed that ours were not the only bags dedicated to this teacher. Past students and other friends, whom we didn’t know, had also decorated bags for him. One of the bags talked about what an inspirational teacher he was, and how much he meant to that person. He’d been retired for more than a few years, but that sentiment was still present with them
I read his on-line obituary, and there were dozens of former students who also wished their condolences and shared memories of how he was more than just a teacher to them, how he had inspired their lives.
As I read this quote I first thought about which teachers in my life were inspirational. My mind searched through the roster of those to whose class I was assigned over the years. There were some who were better than others, and even a few who inspired me. But as I thought further, no one came to mind more strongly than this friend.
This quote progresses from the idea of instruction to inspiration. To get information into someone’s head is instruction, and there are plenty of ways and people to do that. The teacher who inspires transcends the subject at hand. The tributes I read about him on the walk and on line didn’t talk about biology or anything else in the classroom. They talked about how he touched their lives, with his enthusiasm, his work ethic, and his personal example. That is where a teacher becomes more than an instructor. It is when they reach the person on a level far deeper than just the black and white subject of the class.
Today my reflection is on inspirational teachers, and on the fine example my friend set in his years.