""He that teaches us anything which we knew not before is undoubtedly to be reverenced as a master.”
- Samuel Johnson
FROM THE FRONT
By Len Semas Main Feature (10/1/2015)
A MESSAGE TO MY TEACHERS:
I heard some time ago of the passing of one of my former high school teachers, Mr. Bob Wright. I had Mr. Wright for chemistry, and like many former teachers, l owe a great debt of gratitude to him. With his passing, I'm reminded that the time is long overdue to pay public tribute to the many teachers who have profoundly affected my life, and the lives of countless others, as many teachers have done and continue to do. This is a thank you to some of those teachers. Though I have learned much from many, a few stand out for special lessons learned.
Mrs. Singer - Kindness
By 3rd grade, we were getting into some pretty serious academics. Mom was PTA president around that time, so kids in our family were well known to all our teachers. I was a bit of a handful- reasonably smart and responsible; capable of boredom, and a bit independent. Mrs. Singer was always so gracious, kind and attentive though, so no one - not even me - would let her down. She inspired kindness by showing her own - always.
Mrs. Zimmer - Encouragement
I had Mrs. Zimmer for both 5th and 6th grades. She was a lovely lady, a bit cherubic, with a fondness for polka-dot dresses. She had the kids in her class all participate in the "Yum-Yum Club" wherein each of us would cook or bake some delicacy each week to be shared with the rest of the class. It was fun - and my inspiration to continue to experiment with cooking to this day. My performance could have been a bit better at times, and sensing a little frustration with the speed of things, she encouraged me to do independent projects. Work became a little more fun, and performance became a little more in line with capabilities.
Mr. Rudy Buchser - Discipline
Mr. Buchser was part of a family of educators, including a brother I would later have for Geometry, and his father, who was the School District Superintendent. He was the middle school principal, and not a man to be messed with. In those days, the principal had a paddle in his office - and used it. More than one wayward truant or "garbage mouth" found himself on the business end of the paddle, and the wails coming from the principal's office were enough to keep the rest of us mindful of our duties. Despite the role I doubt he ever relished, he was always a fair-minded and great guy - and a great example.
Mr. Bob Buchser – Humor
I had Geometry as a freshman with Bob Buchser, having taken Algebra I in the 8th grade. Most of the other kids were sophomores, and were a little more socially advanced than a gawky freshman. Mr. Buchser was well aware of this - and treated us no differently, despite that obvious handicap. What he did do was make things fun. In between angles, theorems, and proofs, there was always a joke or a chuckle. A lot of tough things are less so, I learned, when taken with a smile. I had the pleasure of quietly picking up a dinner check some years later as I ran into Mr. Buchser and his wife at a local restaurant. It was nice to repay the smiles in a small way.
Miss Dossee - Precision
My sister had her for several years of both English and Latin, so I was well prepared for this taskmaster of language, literature and Latin - I thought. My sister was one of her favorites, thereby posing an insurmountable challenge for her younger sibling. Miss Dossee, I'm afraid, expected a lesser student, and I did not disappoint her. She never married, except to her profession - teaching was her life, and she lived it fully. She regaled in reading Beowolf with a Gaelic accent that made the imponderable work even more so. She set perfection as the only goal, and when one thinks about it, had the goal been mediocrity, it would surely have been achieved. Whatever interest I have in reading, and whatever skills I have in writing and communicating, lowe to that woman. I still fall short of excellence - but it remains my goal.
Miss Gannon - Caring
She was fresh out of college. I think we were her first history class - her trial... by fire. Having made it past my freshman year, I was a bit smug - no, “smart aleckie!” She was a great teacher and planted a fondness for history I retain today. She was always caring. There was one time though, in a non-stop display of "goofing off' in class, she pulled me aside for a good - and well deserved - talking to. I don't know if it was the stress of the day, or my antics that brought her to a few tears. Boy, did I feel badly. I'm pretty sure I apologized somewhere along the way, but just in case - "I am so sorry, Miss Gannon."
Mr. Polk and Mr. Taylor - Coolness
They had only been out of college a couple of years, but had a classy confidence that made them light years ahead in knowledge and wisdom. They never flaunted it. They were always cool. They were careful not to be too chummy with their students, but in their personalities and style, were never too distant from them either. They were cool in a classy, professional way - and still are. I saw them both at a local wedding of mutual friends. I call them Buck and Jim now. That's pretty cool.
Mr. Giles - Hard Work
Dean Giles was my varsity basketball coach - when I made the varsity team the second time around. Mr. Giles used to jokingly refer to our team as "small but slow" - and he could have easily been talking about me personally. He called me aside when I first tried out - not to tell me I wasn't good enough, but to tell me that I was. I just didn't work hard enough. He was right. So I worked harder and made the team. Oh, I still wasn't that good, but the lesson of working hard was worth more in my life than the game itself.
Mr. Bordenave and Mr. Dougherty - Stability
Mr. Bordenave was built like a little bear; Mr. Dougherty (an All-Ameri226 can at Santa Clara University in its Orange Bowl heyday) was built like a big one. They were the vice-principal and principal, respectively. They were rocks. Nothing got by them. If you got in a little trouble, you didn't want to have to face these two. So you pretty much stayed out of trouble.
Fr. Coz - Humanity
Father Coz was a regular guy. He was more of a counselor and a friend to students than an Economics professor, though he was both. I enjoyed him greatly as a friend. For years following graduation from Santa Clara University, I would get a Christmas card from him. Even after five or six moves, even throughout my time in the military, somehow, he would find me - and send a card. Pure kindness and humanity. I would see him occasionally over the years - he never forgot my name, nor anyone else's to my recollection.
Fr. Fagothy - Ethics
He literally wrote the book. We used a text on Ethics bearing his name, and studied something profoundly fundamental to any true education: right and wrong. I would go through life doing a few things right, and too many wrong - but always mindful of the difference. Like most of philosophy, the essence is not in the doing; it is in the knowing. He taught us to know - the doing was up to us.
Dr. Barker - Perseverance
I guess by now I'd forgotten some of Coach Giles' message, and was not working especially hard to master Physics. As a pre-med student though, that was not a good thing. Sensing the problem, Dr. Barker asked me to retake his course. With fatherly counsel, he told me to get off my butt and work harder. If the assignment called for working half the problems at the end of the chapter, work all of them. If we were required to master material for an exam in five days, master it in three - and then review it again. I did. It worked. I got an A the second time around ... and learned more than Physics.
Dr. Fast - Wisdom
Dr. Fast wasn't. He was slow and easy going; always having time for any question from any student. His schedule seemed to be what you required, not what he did. His steady pace and insight into students’ needs worked. Students learned and many went on to pursue advanced science or medical studies - I wasn't one of them, though not for lack of encouragement from Tom Fast. He mentioned something to me one day that struck me as no less than profound. He said, "You don't go into medicine to study science, you do it to help people - and there are lots of paths to doing that." He told me something that likely reflected his own life, and was a wonderful guide to mine - or anyone else's.
Dr. Trickett - Imagination
Joe Trickett taught management - the art of getting things done through people. He was a master and taught me the importance of thinking outside the box before "thinking outside the box" became popular. I learned that dreaming is as powerful as knowing, perhaps more so.
Dean Dirksen - Elegance
"Charlie" Dirksen started the MBA program at Santa Clara, and was highly respected in both business circles and academia. He was always approachable, and yet carried himself with grace and elegance wherever he was. He was a great example of being heard while speaking softly. He garnered admiration not for who he was, but for the kind of person he was.
I could share more about most every teacher I have ever had. The vast majority were great teachers - knowledgeable, professional, kind, caring, and great examples. I have not always exemplified the lessons I learned from them, though the lessons are there. At the end of my life, I hope I will not have squandered the wisdom they instilled. If I do, it will not be because I was not taught. So I thank them, each of them, for more than simply knowledge - but for lessons in life.