I was lucky enough to have a few good teachers in my white, suburban, middle-class, Midwestern upbringing. I was also lucky enough to have several truly inspiring teachers.
I’ve already written a bit about Mr. Feller. Besides being required to have our concert band play at pep rallies and Memorial Day concerts, the concerts and competitions, and the amazing instruction, he always showed us the utmost respect as people and as musicians. He composed his own music, and encouraged anyone and everyone to do their own thing in addition to music. He was one of the first teachers with whom we could joke while still respecting his authority.
Ms. Aubineau was my 12th grade Honors English (excuse me, Enriched English) teacher. And we earned it. She guided us through literature, starting with Beowulf and finishing with Death of a Salesman. She collected sheep, and would dance around the room screaming, “SHEEEEEEEEP!” if one appeared on filmstrip. The final exam consisted of three days of writing, comprising every shred of text we’d read through the year. I might still have the “I finished Ms. Aubineau’s 12th grade final” badge somewhere.
Everyone who went to my junior high and high school knew Mr. Spreeman. He also probably knew you by name, even if you weren’t in his class. For 8th grade Geography, he made the world clear, starting with, “You can’t know anything about the world until you know something about where you’re from.” He was born and raised in our hometown, and he’d tell stories about things he did as a kid. He told stories about things he did in school. He told stories about his family and when his kids (one was our age) were little. He told THE ghost story on Halloween. He taught us what it meant to be a conscious citizen and a good person, as well as what you can do those times when you realize you’re not a good person. He had time to listen for anyone who needed to talk. He took us to see Schindler’s List in the theater, as well as The Gods Must Be Crazy on videotape. It was the first class I distinctly remember as a personal growth experience.
And in college, Karen Harpp was not only a fantastic teacher, but a dedicated researcher. She created a student-run chemistry show. She made crazy experiments to see what would work, but only if it was interesting to her. She wouldn’t give “I don’t know” even a passing glance. Because she’s a geochemist studying volcanic structure and history through rocks, I actually ran into her while on my honeymoon in Hawai’i. The biggest part of her education of me was her unrelenting “why?” Her standards for analytic chemistry were through the roof; it was the hardest class I ever took, comprising analysis, statistics, rigor, creativity, and (of course) chemistry. Her desire to expose chemistry in everyday stuff is a large part of my current passion in high school science.