When more than 200 of my high school classmates and their spouses gather for a reunion on a late-summer weekend, we have a lot of catching up to do. Spirited conversations fill the country club as party-goers trade details on everything from careers and retirement to travel, children, and grandchildren.
Here and there, talk sometimes turns to another subject as well: appreciation and affection for long-ago teachers and classes. One friend recalls a favorite social-studies teacher. Another speaks fondly of a journalism adviser. A man praises a science teacher. Still another classmate expresses admiration for the example a coach set on and off the playing field.
If only teachers could hear these tributes to their lasting influence on students' lives.
What makes a memorable teacher? Knowledge of the subject ranks high, of course. But enthusiasm, patience, kindness, encouragement, and good discipline also exert powerful influences.
The praise these reuniongoers offer echoes comments other former students make in a newsletter e-mailed weekly to thousands of graduates who attended local high schools over the years. Almost every issue includes someone's remembrance of a favorite teacher.
One contributor praises a longtime English teacher, Miss McGuire. "It was she who inspired me to be an English major," the woman writes. "She, more than anyone, prepared me for college-level courses."
A long-ago graduate singles out a music instructor. "Miss Needham was one of the kindest teachers I ever met," he writes. Another contributor offers a similar appreciation: "Ms. Tinson, an English teacher, was always kind and made me feel so at ease whenever I went to her with questions."