After one day in Mr. J’s 11th grade English class, I walked straight to my high school guidance counselor’s office and demanded requested a transfer to another, any other, English class.
My reason for wanting out of Mr. J’s class? I had three:
1. The mid-term exam counted for something like 40% of our final grade.
2. The final exam counted for 60%.
3. Mr. J didn’t do late. Students and homework were to be on time. No exceptions.
I was doomed.
Not only was I punctually challenged, I was a horrible test-taker. Even though I’d always excelled in English class, I was convinced I’d fail Mr. J’s class because he offered none of the safety-nets of my other classes: daily homework, frequent small quizzes, essays, projects, and extra-credit.
Mr. H listened patiently to my case. Mr. J is an excellent English teacher. Why don’t you stay in his class for the rest of the week. I bet you’ll find that you like him. I begrudgingly agreed to give it a shot.
For one week.
What am I telling you this?
Long story short: by the end of the first week of school, I fell in love with Mr. J’s class. By the end of the school year I’d earned high marks and Mr. J became my all-time favorite teacher (from all of my years of school, K-PhD). He was pure awesome.
Sure, we read the required literature (Huck Finn, The Crucible, several others I can no longer remember). But Mr. J also taught us linguistics, logic, and philosophy. He encouraged us to question everything and to develop our own answers. On tests, he wanted us to show him what we knew, rather than give him a specific answer.
And then there was this.
I don’t know if he ever realized it, but Mr. J played a huge role in my “pre-departure orientation” before going to Germany as a high school exchange student.
Mr. J had been a Peace Corps volunteer and often shared stories about his 3 years in India (including one that involved a cobra, an umbrella, and some quick thinking on Mr. J’s part – we loved that story). When I asked him for feedback on the essays I wrote for my scholarship application, he was convinced I’d be selected. His confidence meant the world to me because I was a very insecure slacker of a high school student who just wanted to get out of the classroom and see the world.
In class, he prodded us to dig deep and seek out multiple perspectives. And in the weeks leading up to my departure to spend 12th grade in Germany, Mr. J let me write about how excited/nervous I was about living abroad. His feedback on those papers gave me tremendous strength later when I was homesick and culture fatigue started taking a toll.
I didn’t see Mr. J again after our last day of English class at the end of 11th grade, but we connected on Facebook a few years ago. I wasn’t sure he’d remember me. He did, and he even asked how that exchange year in Germany had gone. It was fun seeing his updates and getting to know him as an adult, especially now that I’ve been a teacher for several years.
Mr. J passed away unexpectedly about 10 days ago. I was stunned. My fellow classmates were stunned. Today would have been his 69th birthday.
I’m so grateful to Mr. J’s dedication to his students. He was a true global educator.