Teacher Remembered

Andrew Lo remembers an inspiring teacher from his childhood: “The best third-grade teacher ever.” So I paused to recall memorable teachers from my childhood.

One does stand out, though I can’t remember her name. Somewhere about eighth grade my English teacher arranged a special English class for me. It was very simple. Every day I was to go to the library, sit in an isolated booth, and just write. About anything. Which I did. She’d quickly look over what I’d written, and give me some feedback. I don’t recall much about the feedback – it may not have mattered much. What mattered is that I wrote and wrote, with a learned audience in mind.

This is a story both about the difference a teacher can make, but also about how teaching may not matter much. If you want to learn to write, well, just write and write.

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  • I have to give a shout-out to my first calculus teacher. I had always thought of math as possibly useful but boring. He had an absurd amount of enthusiasm for the subject, and of course with calculus you do things that didn’t seem possible before. I can’t say he was particularly influential and changed the course of my life, but he was certainly a good teacher.

  • komponisto

     This is a story both about the difference a teacher can make, but also about how teaching may not matter much.

    Not to mention the difference a teacher can make by just getting out of the goddamn way and letting a bright student do their own thing. 

  • Re: your last point, would you have ‘written and written’ without this teacher’s encouragement, at that time?

  • Michael Wengler

    My 10th grade English teacher was certainly one of my favorites, and was almost certainly a pederast.  I have contemplated for years how he avoided disgrace, and I think it was that he was not overly aggressive when putting the moves on boys, and didn’t put the moves on boys who didn’t already view him favorably.  When he put the moves on me it was pretty gentle and he didn’t really fight my de facto refusal.  I read Stranger in a Strange Land in his class, which was somewhat daring for 1972 public school, and as I think of it’s themes now, pretty a propos for a teacher of his bent.  I loved the book and have reread it many 10s of times since then.  

  • Michael Wengler

    I had many good math teachers in my public schools in the early 1970s.  When I came back and visited my high school after getting my PhD in Applied Physics, I can remember my 10th grade math teacher being fairly deferential and explaining matter of factly that he knew NOTHING compared to what I now knew.  I was shocked and titillated to think that someone who now seemed so limited could have provided so much value to my math education when I was 15 years old.  But he had done, no question in my mind.  Further, he was a nerdy guy, like the math “geniuses” one sees at good schools, but apparently with only a partial measure of the genius part. I feel great that even the non-geniuses can make real and valuable contributions, it gives me hope personally!

  • “Writing and writing” didn’t do Ludwig Plutonium any good.

  • How true!