There are many ways to tell you’re getting older. You hold your phone farther away to read it. Or you hear a song on the radio and don’t recognize the singer (that one counts as two – young people don’t listen to the radio).
For me, it was a retirement.
This year, the last person who taught me in high school – my Drama teacher at Smithville District Christian High, Gord Park – stepped away after a long career. And it got me thinking about how influential our teachers can be and how – for good or bad – a teacher can set you on a course of life that you only see in retrospect.
Gord was one of those teachers.
My dad moved our family to Dunnville, Ontario from Kingston when I was in elementary school. I liked living in a city and didn’t think I would enjoy rural life, and I was right. I made a few very good friends – some are still friends to this day – but I was bored, counting the days until I could leave.
What made Dunnville bearable were my teachers – specifically Pete Bulthuis (Geography) and Gord Park. They were great educators and role models. They cared about their subjects. They were funny. They made me work. They challenged my assumptions. And doing that – really demanding academic excellence – made me feel a sense of purpose.
I don’t remember a lot about high school, but I remember Mr. Park’s classes – vividly. I remember the excitement he brought to his work. His enthusiasm for literature and for theatre. I remember how it felt to get a good mark from Mr. Park – it meant I had risen to the challenge he set. In Grade 12, I even got to act in the school play – something I wouldn’t have considered except for the urging of Mr. Park. Theatre – it turned out – gave a lonely and frustrated kid a way to feel at home, when he was far from where he wanted to be.
But as I think about Mr. Park, I realize I’m just one kid out of thousands over the course of a career. How many stories are there – just like mine – of kids who quietly sat at their desks, who felt like they were seen and heard and appreciated because they had an awesome teacher in Gord Park? Now multiply that over all the great teachers working today.
The historian and journalist Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
The good ones – people who teach for all the right reasons and who stick it out for an entire career – affect the future in profound and incredible ways.
So to the teachers out there – you’re amazing. Keep it up.
And to Gord Park – my own teacher – thanks for your influence, and for setting me on my way.
And may God bless you in your retirement.
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