We meet a lot of people. Most of them are like the colored leaves that dance toward the ground on an autumn day. You hardly even notice them. But, a few stay with you, like the most persistent of cockleburs. Friends. Family. Loved ones. Then, there’s the people with whom your time was limited from the start. For example, every teacher has a particular group of students for a particular amount of time. The teacher teaches, the students learn – and then they both (usually) move on. Every now and then, we are pleasantly surprised by who we meet in such circumstances. By who we remember from years past. By how much we hope that we never forget.
My sophomore year of high school, I took AP U.S. History with Mr. Graham. A year or so later, I wrote ‘A Role Model.’ I’m sharing it with you for a couple reasons. I think it’s constructive to see if and how my writing has changed. I invite you to compare and contrast, and, of course, to share your thoughts. Mostly, though, I want to pay tribute to a man and a profession I immensely respect. Good teachers help students understand; great teachers inspire a desire to understand. It goes without saying in which category I would place Mr. Graham. Furthermore, my thoughts on pedagogy are probably not the same today as they were a few years ago, but nevertheless, I would love to hear your thoughts on the ideas and declarations I put forth in the course of the little essay.
I hope, if nothing else, that this piece brings to mind someone who changed your life in a beautiful way. Someone who walked into your life and walked right back out – and yet, you keep an eye on the door, making sure it never closes.
A Role Model
I knew him really well. We all did. That was just the way he taught, the way he lived. Short, stout, rotund, balding – yet his aging was only aesthetic. In spirit, his vigor for his subject matter never wavered. His passion for his art never faltered. His dedication to his students always kept him awake. Sophomore year, I do not remember sleeping a lot. If eye shadow is any indication, Mr. Graham did not either.
People complained – quite regularly, actually. His lectures would have nothing to do with the assigned reading; taking notes was often a test of hearing and attention span; oh, and his tests. Needless to say, a headache and a hand cramp were good indications of knowing the material. Yet, there was something about the class, something about him that gave resounding worth to all the seemingly futile efforts.
Truly, teaching AP United States History was his niche. Mr. Graham sincerely cared about this nation’s past – so much so, he refused to say the pledge. A historic moment would transport him and his oration to another level – his voice down to a whisper, a far away look in his eyes, and the final nodding and finger wagging that spoke for themselves. To him, walking Pickett’s charge, standing in the Roman coliseum, and being present at Obama’s inauguration were gratifying remembrances as to why he teaches history. Moments inspiring to witness, inspiring.
Mr. Graham did not have a status-elevating Alma Mater on his resume or a family on cruise-control. He had History. In my mind, more than enough to be an exemplar of the liberal arts and sciences. There is no greater accomplishment than embracing wholeheartedly one’s calling. His contribution to his art is simple – to pass the torch. For some, it ignited a similar longing for history. For me, it ignited a longing for learning. The chaos settled down near the end. Debates, papers, study guides, notes, lectures – a Jackson Pollack whose meaning is revealed when all is said and done. I was tired, for I had never worked harder in my life. I was sated, because I had never learned more in my life. Hard work, commitment, and genuine lust and respect for Knowledge – a trio that worked for Mr. Graham. A trio I will employ as I pursue Medicine. A trio that will take me to that special place I know Mr. Graham never left.