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Memorable Teachers

I believe that, second only to his/her parents, a child's teachers profoundly influence what each child becomes in adulthood; thus teachers impact the future of our society. Several of my instructors made lasting impressions on me.

To this day I shudder when I see someone throw a scrap of paper or discard a banana peel on the ground. Likewise I never fold over the corner of a book page and worry about writing in the margins. It all reverts to the guidance of Miss Grove, my first grade teacher. She was about the size of my mother, average height and build, but unlike my mother she wore white blouses tucked into flaring skirts of brown or grey bound at the waist with a wide belt. I picture her as she greeted us each morning, her short brown hair curled to one side over her ear. She had great power over us. I don't remember her ever raising her voice, but she cautioned us with authority. We must not foul our surroundings with rubbish, must treasure and not deface our books. All this happened well before the heightened concern about the environment. I doubt if I knew the word "environment," yet I got the idea that I had a duty to look after our natural surroundings and that there was something special about books.

I should tell you about Miss White, my fifth grade teacher. She was of delicate build and had a soft voice. Several of the older boys in my class had failed a couple of years and were huge brutes. I think we all frightened her, and she could barely keep the group under control enough to teach us to diagram sentences, use decimals and percentages and so on. One day a man representing the School Board came to visit our class, and we all began to tease her by misbehaving as he watched from the back of the room. We would stand when she directed us to sit or say silly things when she called upon us. She tried several punishments: some students were to stand at the blackboard with their noses in circles; some had to exit the classroom and stand in the hallway. Nothing was giving her an edge on control, but then she signalled me out. As I remember my actions didn't seem extreme. When she asked me to stand and read, I sat still and ask, mimicking her manner, if she really wanted me to read. Apparently she'd had enough. She directed me to go directly to the Principal. The whole class hushed as I left the room in tears. This could signal trouble from a higher source, furthermore the Principal was my dad. How was that going to affect our punishment? I recall slowly going up the stairs and being directed by the secretary into my dad's office. For the longest time I just sat facing my dad with head bowed, tears running down my cheeks unattended. How I wanted him to scold me and maybe even give me the paddle, but he only remained attentive in his swivel chair and said nothing. Finally he asked if I had anything to say, and I blurted out the whole story. I couldn't look into his face; I was so ashamed. After a time he asked if I thought I could control myself and I nodded. He stood and I took it as a signal to return to class. Miss White and my father taught me a lesson in respect for others and self regulating. If I had been punished instead, I am not sure that I would have learned the lesson as well.

My favourite teacher was Dr. Morton, my Ohio University chemistry professor. He had to stand on tip-toe to reach high on the blackboard; daily he wore the same chalk-dust smudged black suit, which didn't go to the drycleaner until Christmas holiday. His eyes twinkled; his enthusiasm was infectious. From him I caught on that learning something new or accepting a challenge gave me a high and made life fascinating. He used to say that he couldn't teach us, he could only inspire us to learn. It was entirely in our hands to learn from books, from observing life around us and from making mistakes. There is another reason that I rank Dr. Morton first on my list. My sessions under this professor took place not long after World War II and memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still fresh. When we came to the lecture about the bonds within the atom, Dr. Morton clenched his fist and waved it in the air. His face was red with rage. "If I had the secret of the atom in my hand I would die with it there," he said. "Man is not ready for the release of this power." He went on to exhort us. Mankind needs to learn to get along, to be enriched by our differences and accommodate to varying ways. Study the humanities. I think it was at that time that I found my calling; meagre though my contribution could be, I decided that someday I would make Japanese friends and that I might become a bridge between differing cultures.

Though teachers pass along a set curriculum of information and skills, they lead by example, which has a far greater influence. Under each teacher's guidance the child begins to decipher what kind of person he wants to be and learns that there are dilemmas in life when he will be called upon to make choices; he develops a moral code; he finds a passion. Now it's your turn. Who were your memorable teachers?
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