The vocation of a teacher

Congratulations to columnist Kathleen Parker–whom I actually met at a Patrick Henry College journalism event– for winning the Pulitzer Prize.  She credits a teacher for starting her on that road:

I materialized in James Gasque’s class in March of the school year for reasons that will have to wait for another day. Suffice to say, I knew no one and had come from a small high school in central Florida where, for some reason, no one had bothered to teach the diagramming of sentences.

Thus, my fellow students at Dreher High School in Columbia, S.C., were way ahead of me when Mr. Gasque finally called on me to identify some part of a sentence he had written on the blackboard. His back to the class with chalk in hand, he stood poised to write my instructions.

Every living soul knows the feeling of helplessness when a crowd of peers awaits the answer you do not know. Whatever I said was utterly ridiculous, I suppose, because my classmates erupted in peals of laughter.

I have not forgotten that moment, or the next, during all these years. As I was trying to figure out how to hurl myself under my desk, Mr. Gasque tossed me a sugarcoated, tangerine-colored lifesaver from the good ship lollipop.

He whirled. No perfectly executed pirouette can top the spin executed by Mr. Gasque that day. Suddenly facing the class, he flushed crimson and his voice trembled with rage.

“Don’t. You. Ever. Laugh. At her. Again.” he said. “She can out-write every one of you any day of the week.”

It is not possible to describe my gratitude. Time suspended and I dangled languorously from a fluff of cloud while my colleagues drowned in stunned silence. I dangle even now, like those silly participles I eventually got to know. Probably no one but me remembers Mr. Gasque’s act of paternal chivalry, but I basked in those words and in the thought that what he said might be true. I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could. I am still trying.

via Kathleen Parker – A sprig of verbena and the gifts of a great teacher.

Did any of you have a teacher who had a similar impact in your life?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Brenda

    My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Ed Plass, wrote a letter of recommendation for each student. I was so enriched by what he said. I saved that letter…now probably mouldering in my mother’s garage. At the time it meant so much to me.

  • Brenda

    My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Ed Plass, wrote a letter of recommendation for each student. I was so enriched by what he said. I saved that letter…now probably mouldering in my mother’s garage. At the time it meant so much to me.

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    Every teacher should be required to take a course in acting/theatre. So much good teaching depends on voice and timing. Brenda, thanks for telling about your teacher. It would be a wonderful goal for each teacher to write a year’s summary on every student. I used to keep 5×8 cards where I could rapidly write down specific things to remember about each student. (Colleges love specific quotes and small achievements noted too.)

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    Every teacher should be required to take a course in acting/theatre. So much good teaching depends on voice and timing. Brenda, thanks for telling about your teacher. It would be a wonderful goal for each teacher to write a year’s summary on every student. I used to keep 5×8 cards where I could rapidly write down specific things to remember about each student. (Colleges love specific quotes and small achievements noted too.)

  • http://yellingstop.wordpress.com Matt Stokes

    I started teaching high school last year when my PhD options temporarily dried up. I logged onto Facebook this morning to see that I had been tagged in a photo by a former student. It was a picture of his certificate for making the Dean’s list his first year at college. I was – and am – very humbled.

  • http://yellingstop.wordpress.com Matt Stokes

    I started teaching high school last year when my PhD options temporarily dried up. I logged onto Facebook this morning to see that I had been tagged in a photo by a former student. It was a picture of his certificate for making the Dean’s list his first year at college. I was – and am – very humbled.

  • Booklover

    “I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could. I am still trying.”

    I have nothing to match that amazing story, but I did have a music teacher and a math teacher who were what I would call “steady.” They did their work each day amongst us average students with dignity and steadfastness, treating their subject with honor.

    I also remember a college Chorale director who gave us demanding, beautiful, and God-honoring music each and every year, all the while we were getting crappy music in our churches.

    Many of my best teachers have been books. Especially in teaching the piano, and when homeschooling.

    I don’t really remember any teachers having a “personal touch.” I try to give my music students that personal touch. Some of them think we more experienced performers are flawless. I tell them that I have been so nervous before performance that I had to throw up. And that I have made mistakes performing. I want them to know there is hope, and that there are ways to combat nervousness, and that one can keep getting better even if mistakes have been made in the past.

  • Booklover

    “I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could. I am still trying.”

    I have nothing to match that amazing story, but I did have a music teacher and a math teacher who were what I would call “steady.” They did their work each day amongst us average students with dignity and steadfastness, treating their subject with honor.

    I also remember a college Chorale director who gave us demanding, beautiful, and God-honoring music each and every year, all the while we were getting crappy music in our churches.

    Many of my best teachers have been books. Especially in teaching the piano, and when homeschooling.

    I don’t really remember any teachers having a “personal touch.” I try to give my music students that personal touch. Some of them think we more experienced performers are flawless. I tell them that I have been so nervous before performance that I had to throw up. And that I have made mistakes performing. I want them to know there is hope, and that there are ways to combat nervousness, and that one can keep getting better even if mistakes have been made in the past.

  • DonS

    This is off the point of Dr. Veith’s request, but it has to be said. The easiest way for a “conservative” to earn a Pulitzer is to strongly and repeatedly criticize fellow conservatives. Sad, but true.

  • DonS

    This is off the point of Dr. Veith’s request, but it has to be said. The easiest way for a “conservative” to earn a Pulitzer is to strongly and repeatedly criticize fellow conservatives. Sad, but true.

  • Bob H

    I went to a pretty small high school in Missouri. I had a math teacher who had a big impact on me. He had come from a less than privileged background, had been a golden gloves boxer, and loved mathematics for its own beauty. This combination of manliness and love of learning made a big impression on me, as a high school age boy. He came in an hour early each morning to help 4-5 of us who had some interest in and apptitude for mathmatics by teaching an introductory pre-calculus session on a purely voluntary basis, since our small school could not offer that advanced class. When I went on to college to get my engineering degree, I found that I was well prepared, even compared to students who had taken multiple AP math courses in large suburban high schools. I don’t think I thanked him enough for what he did for me and his other students.

  • Bob H

    I went to a pretty small high school in Missouri. I had a math teacher who had a big impact on me. He had come from a less than privileged background, had been a golden gloves boxer, and loved mathematics for its own beauty. This combination of manliness and love of learning made a big impression on me, as a high school age boy. He came in an hour early each morning to help 4-5 of us who had some interest in and apptitude for mathmatics by teaching an introductory pre-calculus session on a purely voluntary basis, since our small school could not offer that advanced class. When I went on to college to get my engineering degree, I found that I was well prepared, even compared to students who had taken multiple AP math courses in large suburban high schools. I don’t think I thanked him enough for what he did for me and his other students.

  • http://thoughts-brigitte.blogspot.com Brigitte

    In grade 12, I had a very good English teacher, Mr. Moffat. I had only come to Canada two years previously and everything was still quite laborious for me. He was also a skiing ace, led the ski team and was lost to the Rocky Mountains, after that year of teaching, sad to say, but probably good for him.

    He taught us how to write essays most of the year. He diagrammed for us how each paragraph relates to each one before and after. How each sentence relates to each before and after. How the topic sentence dominates the paragraph. How the introduction and the conclusion frame the whole thing. The picture has always been in my mind and greater unity in writing I am sure has resulted from it.

    Even more importantly however, he would let nobody get away with not being “succinct” (“succinct” was a new word for me then, never heard it before). We must be “succint” and never, never vague. Being vague is the very worst thing. And you must go out on a limb. Don’t try to be too safe. Go for it. (Maybe the skier coming out.) –daring and succinct, that’s what an essay had to be–and unified, of course.

    So, if I’m out of line here, ever, you must blame it all on Mr. Moffat. :)

  • http://thoughts-brigitte.blogspot.com Brigitte

    In grade 12, I had a very good English teacher, Mr. Moffat. I had only come to Canada two years previously and everything was still quite laborious for me. He was also a skiing ace, led the ski team and was lost to the Rocky Mountains, after that year of teaching, sad to say, but probably good for him.

    He taught us how to write essays most of the year. He diagrammed for us how each paragraph relates to each one before and after. How each sentence relates to each before and after. How the topic sentence dominates the paragraph. How the introduction and the conclusion frame the whole thing. The picture has always been in my mind and greater unity in writing I am sure has resulted from it.

    Even more importantly however, he would let nobody get away with not being “succinct” (“succinct” was a new word for me then, never heard it before). We must be “succint” and never, never vague. Being vague is the very worst thing. And you must go out on a limb. Don’t try to be too safe. Go for it. (Maybe the skier coming out.) –daring and succinct, that’s what an essay had to be–and unified, of course.

    So, if I’m out of line here, ever, you must blame it all on Mr. Moffat. :)


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