Houston Academy is an institution that prides itself on its fine teaching, and certainly this pride is well deserved. As I told the teachers at our opening faculty meeting, I believe that teaching is the most noble of professions. For relatively little pay, they work every day to make this world a better place. Moreover, for every CEO, star athlete, congressman, musician, doctor, or lawyer out there, there were one or more great teachers who were instrumental in making them who they are.
The older I get and the more experience in education I have, the more I appreciate the fine education I received at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and in my graduate studies. A great number of educators influenced me profoundly. My high school football and wrestling coach, Bob Cloy, taught me tenacity, resiliency, AND that a great coach SHOULD also be a great classroom teacher. My high school French teacher, Susan Kokoszka, taught me to revel in a culture that was not my own and that uncompromisingly high standards yield incredible results. In my undergraduate and graduate education, I was exposed to some incredible minds: Dan Franklin, Mynra Gantner, Art Casciato, Steven Bauer, Jack Kirby, and Ryan Barilleaux, to name a few. However, if I had to pick one teacher to honor as having the most profound influence on my life, it would have to be my undergraduate history and American studies professor, Elliot Gorn.
As a teacher and a student, I have observed that effective educators can take a variety of forms. I have learned a great deal from teachers with disparate methods and demeanors. “Elliot,” as he instructed us to call him, had a rare combination of intellectualism and informality that enabled him to impart a great deal, while creating one of the most comfortable learning environments I have ever encountered. As I got to know him, I was awestruck by his scholarship. Yet, Elliot never pretended to know all the answers. Instead, he always found the questions that forced me to think conceptually. In Elliot’s class, I learned how to make abstract connections relative to complex social phenomenon. Importantly, though, Elliot never let us forget that society and history deal with real people with real lives, who face real issues.
I won’t go so far as to say that Elliot taught me how to be a scholar, because I did not really learn that until graduate school, but what he did teach me was how to think like a scholar. In Elliot’s class learning, for me, became both a pleasure and an obligation. I genuinely enjoyed the readings, the class discussions, etc. However, he engendered the kind of personal loyalty that made me determined not to disappoint him in any writing or work I did. Elliot took my work and my thinking seriously. This gave me confidence. Consequently, I pushed myself to intellectual limits I had not previously discovered. I came to recognize that education is not a product; education is a struggle. I do not mean this in a pejorative sense, but in the sense that education is a process of disclosure that is not and should not be easy. I learned that there is much greater satisfaction in unearthing something difficult than in repeating something tired. I look back on some of my early work in his class, and I think it would have been very easy to mock my clichés, but somehow he taught me to reject them without making me feel like an idiot.
Nonetheless, my struggle in his classes and my success in his classes helped me decide that I loved learning and loved teaching enough to make learning and teaching my career. As a teacher, I have incessantly worked to give my students the sense of excitement at intellectual development that I found in Elliot Gorn’s class.
The excitement and enthusiasm of a new school year always causes me to reflect on what teachers like Elliot Gorn gave to me and countless other students in his care. Noting that no one has been inclined to respond to my blog, I would invite the HA community and readers of this blog to share their story of a teacher/coach who inspired them and shaped them. Please comment below!