It’s been many years since I’ve been at school. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning. On the contrary, I look at each day as a chance to glean new information or pick up a new skill. Sometimes I take an online class for writing or marketing because it helps to learn from someone with experience in the field.
There are many teachers out there, but the best ones don’t just follow a lesson plan but inspire us to research further into the subject and ask questions.
When I think back to all of the teachers I had growing up, a few fit the inspiring bill. The first one that comes to mind was my art teacher in first grade, Mr. D’Bernardo.
He was very enthusiastic about art and teaching it to children. He allowed us to call him Mr. D. for short and even had a silly handshake when he greeted us. What made him stand out the most was that he rarely criticized bad work unless you didn’t try—which he could tell.
He encouraged us to try new things and get our hands dirty. That was a concept that I loved. I spent most of my free time playing outside in the mud, sand, and trees. I excelled at getting dirty—my mother would attest to that.
Mr. D. was jovial and soft-spoken, and if he had an afro, you’d think he was the celebrity painter Bob Ross. It was probably because of the similar personalities that I started watching Bob Ross on PBS.
On rainy days, I’d sit in front of the TV and watch him plunk “happy little trees” onto the canvas, and it didn’t take long for me to show off my new skills in art class. Once Mr. D. saw what I created, he complimented me on my work and my extra effort to learn more outside school. Little did he know it was he that inspired me.
Another teacher that lit that spark, quite literally, was Mr. Nero, my seventh-grade science teacher. I got to use a Bunsen burner for the first time in his class, and I enjoyed igniting the flame with a flint spark lighter.
Mr. Nero was not your average science guy or teacher. The short spunky Italian had an athletic build with bulging muscular arms. At a time when everyone stereotyped science geeks as wimpy, Mr. Nero made science look cool.
When it came to science, Mr. Nero was always prepared. He wrote extensive notes on the chalkboard, but that didn’t mean we only learned by memorization. He also made sure we got our hands dirty with experiments (except when it wasn’t safe). Using the laboratory equipment and watching chemicals react made me want to know more about the scientific world around me. Yeah, it was hard work, but I was eager to continue learning more, especially since Mr. Nero had a way of explaining concepts that made them sound fun.
Years later, I found myself taking Biology in college. My Texas A & M professor, Dr. Iliffe, had very field-oriented courses. He led a group of students down to Mexico, where we explored caves looking for various species of invertebrates such as crustaceans and polychaetes (segmented worms). He is even the namesake for ten new species and two new genera.
Dr. Iliffe taught the students skills beyond the standard lecture material. We learned about cave systems, scuba diving, and exploring fragile environments. He was always brimming with fascination when we stumbled upon a small pool with life swimming in it.
Witnessing that enthusiasm from a teacher was infectious among the students. My classmates and I returned to school with a whole new appreciation of the wild worlds around us. I have that same appreciation to this day, even when I’m in my backyard.
I recall a quote attributed to H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), “Those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach.” I’ve found it does remind me of some teachers over the years, but for Mr. D., Mr. Nero, and Dr. Iliffe, they have gone farther than that. They did more than teaching. They educated students with respect, intrigue, and enthusiasm. Most of all, they inspired me to dig deeper and explore beyond what’s written in a book.
And yes, I still like to get my hands dirty.