My Favorite Teacher Believed in a Dumb Jock

by Mike

My favorite teacher was a male science teacher I had in high school who I will refer to as “Dennis.”

To say he was my favorite teacher is really an understatement as he was also a friend and a mentor whom I could trust. He was able to reach me, inspire me and motivate me in ways that no other person, teacher or otherwise, has been able to since. It is absolutely fair and accurate to say that the pretty good life I am living now is due in large part to the lessons that Dennis taught me about science and life.

My first year of high school, ninth grade, was also Dennis’ first year of teaching. I remember walking into his room on the first day with a “too cool for school” attitude that my fellow jocks displayed proudly. Like my peers, I was too cool to work hard in school. Dennis greeted me with a big friendly smile, called me by name and said he looked forward to sharing a class with me this year. (This was the first time I ever had a teacher do anything but sigh or roll their eyes when I first walked into their room!)

At first I didn’t trust him because, well, he was a teacher and I was a cool jock. He continued to greet me each day and he made Earth Science both interesting and fun. He would sprinkle little bits of offbeat trivia in the lessons (like Tycho Brahe’s copper nose) and throw in a dumb joke a few times a week. He put a lot of effort into reaching to us and it showed.

He always made sure our questions were answered and liked it when students challenged him on the topic he was teaching. I recall his eyes twinkling a little bit each time a hand would go up to ask a
question. I asked him if he thought those questions were annoying and I clearly remember his answer. “No”, he said, “those questions tell me you are actively learning instead of just hearing me talk.”

I didn’t realize until later on that he would intentionally say something wrong at times to see who was paying attention - usually it was me!

Dennis went to the sporting events and plays and would ask the students about their weekends. The difference was that he truly listened to what we said. He would ask weeks or months later about that funny line in the play or how someone’s knee was feeling after an injury. Dennis paid us the attention that we didn’t get elsewhere and he made science fun.

I had Dennis for Biology the following year and by this time we had become good friends. I would spend my free time between school and practice in his room talking about various science topics. He encouraged my thinking of abstract ideas and helped me to satiate my curiosity about life science. These discussions fanned the sparks of casual interest into a hobby which evolved into the passion I have for science today.

Because of Dennis’ encouraging my mental growth I have gone on to earn a BS and MS in a field of science and look forward to working on a PhD when I retire in 6 years. I am not doing it for my career; I am doing it for fun.

I am also doing it for Dennis, the first man to see that this “too dumb for college” kid in his classroom over 25 years ago had potential and used his friendship to guide me along a path that I did not know was there.

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