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LEARNING HOW TO LEARN The Most Important Teachers in My Life
As we close out the summer and all the kids around town flock back to school,
In high school, I had Mr. Licata for biology, the first teacher who really noticed my aptitude for science and pushed me to challenge myself. He was always encouraging me to take on special projects, giving me books and other materials to dig a little further into whatever lesson he was teaching. At the time, I was pretty into lifting weights and fascinated by the human body, so I took to anything that helped me to contextualize and understand it. I can honestly say that his constant encouragement was a big reason I pursued biology in college. Even if that didn’t end up being my career later on in life, it still had a big impact on my self-confidence and ability to learn. Later, in college, I was forced to take calculus, a subject that I found totally abstract and bewildering. The first time through, I got a pretty nasty “F” in the class as I was unable to grasp all the integrals and derivatives and complicated equations. But on my second try, I had a much better teacher, Mr. Van Damme, who took care to make everything accessible and crystal clear. It still wasn't the most fun class in the world, but all of a sudden, everything clicked. I ended up with an “A” and never looked back. When you’re in school, and sometimes even long afterward, it’s easy to look at calculus, biology, and all these other esoteric subjects as totally irrelevant to your life. After all, I own an HVAC business now — I’m not using a graphing calculator or thinking much about how ATP is synthesized within the body. But while I don’t ever really use calculus, I do use a lot of math in my day-to-day. Because of school, I’m well-equipped to learn everything I can about my industry. There’s a lot more theory behind HVAC than people realize, and to be the best technician I can be, I need to know exactly how to learn skills to be the best in the business. That, to me, is a big part of what school was about — not so much about the precise content of what we were learning but equipping us with the tools to work hard and be able to learn whatever we might need in life. I’m grateful to all the teachers of my past who reached out or found a way to teach me something new. I don’t know where I’d be without them.
I’ve been doing a little bit of thinking about my own school experience so many years ago. Though it’s hard to
recall much about those days anymore — much of it goes by as a blur of pencils, papers, and desks in my mind — there are a couple teachers that stick out in my memory, even now.
Way back in elementary school, I had Mr. Powers and Mr. Post, two guys who teamed up to work with a double-sized class. Though I’d always enjoyed school about as much as any kid could be expected to, it wasn’t until they came along that school actually became fun in the day-to-day. They were incredibly animated, and, to us kids,
pretty much the coolest adults ever. I distinctly remember the talk around the school when we learned one of them rode a motorcycle; it was as if that was the most interesting thing we’d ever heard about a teacher before. I guess the doubled-up class size required double the enthusiasm, because those two always seemed to be on the ball, getting us excited about even the most mundane subjects. And every once in a while, they’d throw out some wild card that kept us on our toes, like the time one of them put on the “Tommy” album from The Who and somehow tied it to a lesson. I can’t say I remember what the lesson actually was, but you can bet that “Tommy” stuck with me from then on.
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