I don't have any pictures of my tributee today, but he's one of the reasons I got into teaching. His name is Mr. Schober, and he was my 11th grade Physics teacher.
Now, please understand: I was no physics wiz by any stretch of the imagination. Physics involves kind of a lot of math, and math was not my favorite. I could do it, but it was far from intuitive and I was soooo slow and methodical. (Shout out of thanks right now to my high school math teachers Mrs. Rossi, Mrs. Barnes, and Mr. Hansen for being so understanding about my need for non-speed.) So I was anxious about physics from the get-go.
Fortunately for me, Mr. Schober was very patient and did his best to have a cheerful and friendly approach to the subject. Looking back now, I can only truly appreciate the pain in the hiney that I was with my often wet-blanket attitude. I was such a grouch about physics…gripe gripe gripe!
He had some fun projects that I still remember, though (even if my knowledge of how to solve the equations is more than rusty). We watched this excerpt from the movie "Speed":
and were assigned the task of figuring out if it were possible in real life (spoiler alert: not a chance).
We had to design a roller coaster ride that would make use of centripetal force so as not to expel its riders.
And his final exams were always Star Wars themed (hence his nickname of Schobi-Wan).
Mr. Schober also sported an amazing collection of Disney and Looney Tunes themed ties, as I recall. Not many teachers still came to school in button down shirts and ties (my dad was one of them) but Schobi-Wan always did.
Okay, so he was a great physics teacher. But that in itself was not what helped me to become a teacher. For that, you'll have to fast forward a few years to the summer after my junior year of college. I had come home for the summer as usual and decided to go to my high school's graduation because one of the girls graduating was wearing a graduation dress I had made and donated to the school.
I ran into Mr. Schober and he asked about how things were going and what I was thinking of doing after college. I said, truthfully, that I didn't really know. He looked shocked. "You mean you're not going to be a teacher? You've got to be a teacher!"
At first I was annoyed. I come from a family of teachers: my mom, my dad, both of my dad's parents, and my mom's mom, and my mom's grandma…all teachers or professors. As a kid I had wanted to be a teacher, but as a teen I moved away from that idea, wanting to have my own identity and not just do what everyone in my family did (typical teen motive). So, I demurred and said I didn't really think that I would be a good teacher.
Mr. Schober gave me a serious look and said (something to the effect of…can't remember it verbatim) "No, you will be a good teacher. You are patient and you work really hard and you try to find lots of different ways to explain things and understand things."
This touched me. I had never been a great student in his class; at least, not according to my definition of a great student. True, I had worked hard. True, I did try to figure things out even when they were frustrating. But I never got better than a B in that class, so I had supposed myself to be a very mediocre student and not really one that a teacher would like.
You see, I hadn't yet learned that most teachers would much rather teach a hard-working and interested student than one who gets it all right away but doesn't really seem to care or work for it. I didn't learn that until I was a teacher and discovered that it was much more wonderful to watch the students who were working for it and making improvements than the ones to whom it all came so easily that they had decided they could just skate by and do the bare minimum.
The conversation returned to smaller matters and was soon over entirely. I think that was the last time I've seen him. I don't think he teaches at my high school anymore, so I doubt I will ever see him again. But the little seed of encouragement he planted in my mind went on to germinate and produce good fruit. He believed that I, imperfect though I was, could be a good teacher. Maybe he was right.
When I went back for my senior year at St. John's, I applied for several teaching fellowships and programs. I ended up doing the two year teaching apprenticeship at Arbor School and was fortunate enough to win a great job right after my apprenticeship ended; this is my first time not teaching since 2006.
I know that I have a lot to learn and many skills yet to perfect when it comes to teaching, but I believe that Mr. Schober was right: I do have many of the traits that make a good teacher, and I'm so glad that he took the time to tell me so. It couldn't have been more than a five minute conversation, yet it has had an impact on my whole adult life. I can only hope that some of the small conversations that I have had with my students will have such a positive impact in their lives.
Thank you, Mr. Schober, and may the Force be with you!