Teacher I need you

This should be filed under “Things to Do Before I Die”.

Today I had lunch with a man who helped mold me into the person I am today. A man who, with diligence, good will, humor and genuine concern influenced me as an adolescent and, ultimately, as an adult. This man is a former high school teacher. He was the director of the English/Language Arts Department for many years in addition to being a teacher.

A few weeks ago he had popped into my head from out of the blue. Who knows from where these ideas originate? I began to think about him more and more. Since I had lost track of him, I contacted his son on Facebook and inquired as to whether (hope, hope) he was still alive and well. Sure enough, he was. His son provided contact information and, within twenty-four hours, I had called my beloved former teacher.

Darell was thrilled that I had called. After thirty seven years he remembered me vividly, a not unsubstantial task considering the thousands of kids he’s taught. We had a delightful chat and I told him how much I wanted to see him, have lunch and get caught up. He was gung-ho. We made plans for the following week. I have to admit that I was anticipating it to the point where it was all I could think of.

Well, today was the denouement. Darell looked very much the same. At eighty-three he moved slowly and with a cane. Open-heart surgery had resulted in weight loss. But his mind was as sharp as ever. His deadpan sarcastic sense of humor still knife-sharp. Just as I had hoped.

Our “lunch” lasted four and a half hours and included conversation back at his home. After yakking about everyone we could remember from high school–former teachers, friends and acquaintances–and sharing funny and heartbreaking stories, it was time for me to go. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring a signed copy of my book for him. Fortunately, he insisted I bring it another time. This means another lunch date! One in which he insists will be on his Visa. I did nothing the rest of the day except savor the experience I had just had.

Now, for those of you who follow my blog posts you know there’s a moral to the story! And you know there’s going to be a long-winded preface. But please keep reading. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

First I have something for you teachers out there. You know who you are. Many of you are beloved friends of mine that hold an exalted place in my heart (I never told you, but it’s true). For you teachers, I have a little game. Please indulge me for a bit. If you know the answers, write them down or just keep them in your mind. If you have to think too long, move on.

1) Who won the Best Picture Oscar this year? Last year?

2) Who won the Best Actor Oscar this year? Last year?

3) Who won the World Series this year? Last year?

4) Who won the Super Bowl this year? Last year?

OK, think to yourself how easy (or hard) it was to answer these questions. Was it difficult? How long did you have to think? Were you correct?

Now answer this: who was your favorite high school teacher? Can you name your grade school teachers? Who was your favorite?

If you are like most people the three questions above elicit immediate, rapid-response answers. And therein lies my point; it’s this:

Despite what everyone else would have you believe YOU are making a bigger impact on the lives of your charges than you know. When your kids are disrespectful, disruptive, arrogant, uninterested, don’t take it personally. In the future, they will sing your praises and wax rhapsodically over what a great educator you are (or were). Madison Avenue and Hollywood and the media would have us believe that our young people are obsessed with Lady Gaga, iPhones and Dancing With the Stars. Maybe they are. But in the grand scheme of things, YOU are what they will remember along with their families. YOU spend just as much time with them as anyone and YOU teach them, even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes.

The second moral to the story is this: don’t let the sands of time slip through your fingers. Capture some of them and do something with it. Darell is the fourth teacher I have contacted from my adolescence. I realized that today and thought it made me some sort of odd stalker. Darell assured me that I wasn’t. And even if I am, I don’t give a rat’s you-know-what. This man touched my life. Teachers bless us for such a short time, but their impact is lifelong. Shouldn’t we give something back to them?

Here’s to you, beloved Darell Nichols. God bless you. God bless you. God bless you.

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