Vail Daily column: Teachers that stick with you
Mr. Nathan Wright was, by all accounts, the most strict and most feared choir teacher in the entire district. There was one other choir director who was sometimes given credit for being on the same terrible footing, but all of us students knew she was absolutely crazy. She threw things at her students. Mr. Wright was not crazy … he was completely rational, completely fair and demanded absolute excellence. This is precisely why his students, myself included, hated and loved the guy.
Like any great teacher, he tended to speak in metaphors. “I drive the same route to work every day. There’s a pothole in the road. What would you say if I chose to hit that pothole with my car day after day?” Don’t make the same mistake twice. “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. “If you go on a road trip from Salt Lake to Las Vegas, you don’t start out with a quarter tank of gas.” Plan, or in choir-speak, take a breath before the start of a long phrase. They were simple lessons, but now hold deeper meanings. I don’t have enough words in this short column to give you all the quotes that still rattle around in my head every day.
Mr. Wright had a strict attendance policy. On time meant on time, and mentally ready to work. Missing saying that you were in the classroom during a roll call meant that you were late. Being late twice meant that you were practically failing. I remember reporting to choir class as the first plane struck the World Trade Center, and Mr. Wright still calling role, assessing students for being late, and maintaining order. We went to a high school in which a high percentage of the students had parents working on the military base just a mile away. The base was locked down. Students panicked, but the choir class went on as planned.
I remember the day my high school sweetheart, Kourtne, attempted to say goodbye to her then boyfriend as he left on his Mormon mission. I accompanied Kourtne as a friend, and had offered to drive. I didn’t realize it then, but I was falling in love with my friend’s girl. We would later experience what was for me the closest thing to a pure young love that I have ever felt. We were slow to leave the airport and had to both get back to a performance at the high school that evening. We were late, and our grades suffered for it. For a 4.0 student, this was a tough but meaningful lesson. Sometimes choosing something we think is important means not choosing something else. I would recall this lesson some three years later when Kourtne married while I was living abroad.
Mrs. Workman was my eighth-grade English teacher. She was the first and only teacher to ever catch me plagiarizing an essay. She was soft about calling me out on it, but it made all the difference in my writing from then on. I was mad with myself and learned that being original sometimes meant you had to make sure you were original.
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Dr. Seiter was my AP European History teacher. He was a humorously frank bastard who believed in ghosts, enjoyed mocking deserving students and eyed student writing with deadly accuracy. He taught me how to think and write fast. Thesis paragraph, three points, conclusion. Nothing flashy, but highly efficient. The first 45 minutes of each class period were set aside for an essay. We did this every single class period until our testing at the end of the year. It was a grueling marathon of writing, but it has been worth the time spent.
These few anecdotes were just a handful of the lessons that still roll around in my head every day. Fortunately, I think that many of us have had teachers like these in our lives. I’ve indulged myself with a few lines of thanks, and I hope that you’ll do the same. They probably haven’t heard it enough. The teachers that caused us stress for the right reasons tend to stick with us. Have someone in mind?
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.