Thanking Some of My Teachers
The most extraordinary thing about a really good teacher is that he or she transcends accepted educational methods. Such methods are designed to help average teachers approximate the performance of good teachers. – Margaret Mead
Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. I know I often write a bit harshly about our educational system and sometimes this may be viewed as criticism of teachers themselves. Part of my driving force is having had some excellent teachers and personally seen how a great teacher can impact a life. I desire nothing less than greatness in education for your child and mine, so I speak loudly when I see areas that need improvement. But today’s post is about three of my teachers that went above and beyond and is a post in praise of the excellent teachers that are often unsung.
Dan Jones, Huron Valley School in Ypsilanti
I didn’t like this teacher. I wasn’t sure why he got into teaching if it wasn’t to be able to make many lives miserable at once. He was strict and wasn’t one of the most approachable teachers at my school. And I was stuck with him for two years!
Of course, all views are subjective and colored by our experiences. The reality was that I had breezed through school through fifth grade and finally met a teacher who wasn’t happy with my minimal effort. He actually required homework to be done! I saw homework as pointless. The tests proved I knew the material, so why should I waste my time with a nightly review? Can’t a teacher cut a kid a break?
I’m sure it would have been easier for him to do just that. Instead, he challenged me to do better work and not just skate by. He was the first teacher that gave me an inkling that more than intelligence mattered in the work world. This was a hard lesson to learn and it colored my view of him for many years until I finally understood what he had done for me and other gifted learners in the classroom.
Mr. Jones also took a personal interest in many of his students. In today’s world that often is met with suspicion, but I believe he realized that some of us gifted learners just didn’t fit in easily and worked to be a mentor to us in personal and character growth too.
I don’t think he had a teaching certificate. Huron Valley started my fourth grade year and most of the teachers came from the private sector. However, they were extremely dedicated and believed they could make a difference. They did. Mr. Jones did. And I thank him for that.
Howard Weinberg, Detroit Catholic Central
There were few teachers that commanded the respect that Mr. Weinberg did. He won respect by giving respect. Everyday he was dressed in a suit. He addressed all the students by Mr. (Last Name). He didn’t dumb down the curriculum for us, but demanded excellence from his students.
Mr. Weinberg made economics interesting and understandable, which is tough for any teacher to do. He knew the material thoroughly, covered multiple schools of economic thought with ease, and could explain it deftly. After taking one of his classes, I just knew I had to take another and was able to convince my parents to let me drop Spanish to take microeconomics. The courses were so solid that I was able to ace the AP tests and skip Economics 201 and 202 at the University of Michigan. He instilled a love of economics that continues to this day.
Mr. Weinberg was also the moderator for the Quiz Bowl team at Catholic Central. I didn’t have the time or motivation to compete on the Quiz Bowl team, but I enjoyed hanging out in his room after school during Quiz Bowl practices. One never knew what brilliant discussions would occur in that room and it was always a safe haven for very intelligent kids to be themselves.
Mr. Weinberg taught a class about business and was a model of professionalism in business. For opening my mind to a new subject and for his understanding of gifted students, I thank him.
Lori Terkeurst, Detroit Catholic Central
In my time at Catholic Central, I quickly developed a reputation as a student that did very little work. If I studied for a test, it was in the class beforehand. Any homework I actually did was done at school. I breezed through the honors and AP classes with an occasional B, usually in English because I hadn’t read the books we were being tested on. Even at Catholic Central, most teachers were content to let me do this. It’s hard to tell an ace student that he needs to work harder. But Mrs. Terkeurst wasn’t afraid to.
The example stands out most in my mind was when in honors physics, we took a physics exam given at a number of schools. The organization that ran the exam provided five certificates and one pin to each school for the top scorers. My good friend Sam Rauch and I scored the highest in the school. When Mrs. Terkeurst was handing out awards, she said “I only have one pin. Joshua and Sam tied for first, but Sam earned it.” That little statement sat with me. I may have been able to equal Sam in intellectual pursuits, but Sam was willing to put the work in to succeed. Sam’s motivation took him to two masters degrees. Mrs. Terkeurst’s statement was one of her ways of telling me that I needed more than just intelligence to succeed, a life lesson I dearly needed.
Mrs. Terkeurst made physics and chemistry fun. I enjoyed those classes and learned a lot in there that still sticks with me even though I don’t use the information regularly. However, the logic and reasoning skills that she incorporated into her classes have served me well daily. For being a great teacher and her work to motivate me, I thank her.
And So Many More…
I had so many other wonderful teachers that taught me life lessons along with the curriculum that it would be hard to thank them all individually. Mr. Jeff Bean (CC) helped our honors English class learn about the freedoms our founding fathers wrote about. Fr. Ned Donoher (CC) inspired a school and created innovative ways to learn Catholic faith. Mr. Neal Alpiner (CC) helped get me on the IT path and cut me some slack when I attempted to hack the school’s computer systems. Mr. Robert Talbot (CC) ran his AP Calculus class as a university course and exposed us to the college style of learning. A few teachers at Huron Valley helped accelerate some of us in math and English so that we were at the right academic level. Mrs. Lewis of Bach Elementary in Ann Arbor took time to visit her students at their houses. David and Kristina Moutrie, retired teachers and great nextdoor neighbors, mentored my wife and I in many ways as we began our family and placed our children in the educational system. But there are so many more and that is just a small sample.
I know my children will have some excellent teachers who will make a difference in their lives, who will push them to excel and not just coast, who will collaborate with my wife and I to meet our children’s educational needs. And for that, I thank them.
Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE. Together we can make a difference for gifted learners!