The Power of a Teacher

We all remember our favorite teachers, right?

I am still amazed at how easily my kindergarten teacher, Miss Meyers, could draw a detailed landscape with our over-sized crayons. My attempts to imitate were just embarrassing. Mrs. Fowler, second grade, wore all kinds of jangly jewelry so she could never sneak up on you, yet she knew our indiscretions before we made them.  And the third grade teacher, Mrs. McCabe took no mercy with those who couldn’t recite the multiplication tables—never have I forgotten.

They all had their styles and each found a way to move us along in those basics of writing, reading and arithmetic.  Moving to the upper grades and the shifts between classrooms and teachers on an hourly basis, my memory begins to get much more selective.  And in the college years there are fewer standouts. But we all have one great teacher who made a critical difference—sometimes more than one—but one can be just enough.

World literature was the course—a general education elective that I had to finish up in order to graduate.  There was a new assistant professor teaching who found out that I had this thing for movies. Movies had been my parallel education system since I could sit still on grandma’s lap at the local movie theater.  Their stories were the insights in to the values, beliefs, nightmares and dreams that we all shared through and out of the Cold War, into the crazy 60’s and 70’s and beyond.

So, this teacher, when it came to reading Don Quixote called me out in class with a simple request, “Mr. Grogg, maybe you could make a little movie about Cervantes’ story.”  Not so simple—we didn’t have video-taking mobile phones or camcorders.  We were talking 8mm home movie gear, real film, editing with a razor blade.  But I jumped at it.  The result a 10 minute very abbreviated telling of a contemporary Don Quixote who refused to give up his dreams.  There was a screening, there was applause, there was a grade and the film went into a box as I moved out of the dorm the following week.

Twenty years later, I had made a motion picture, The Trip To Bountiful, that was nominated for two Academy Awards winning best actress for Geraldine Page.  That teacher-inspired taste of making a movie led to an unguessed career in motion pictures.  That teacher—Gary Luckert was his name—sparked something that I never had a clue was in me or in my future.

There really is nothing but opportunity in the teacher-student relationship.  And there is, likewise, real danger.  A great teacher can inspire a student to never expected heights.  A poor teacher can push a student out of the game and leave an indelible mark that can have life consequences.

Here’s to your best teacher!

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