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I was lucky. I had more than my share of wonderful teachers. Of all the teachers I had in seven periods times four years plus some changing at the quarter or semester, there was only one I did not get along with. There was some kind of “reverse chemistry” or bad chemistry between us. I think part of it was that everyone always told her that she was a slightly older version of me and they told me that I was a slightly younger version of her. She was a first year teacher and didn’t like being compared to a student. I think that was part of it. But, I had wonderful teachers who actually believed me over her and went to bat for me so when she tried to fail me, she couldn’t.

The school is on the east side of San Jose in California. It’s now a really bad place to live but in those days, the immediate area around the school was not so great with the outer areas being pretty good, if not great. The school had its share of tough kids. No gangs in those days but definitely groups that didn’t get along with each other. It was not an affluent area, for the most part. The teachers at the school could have jobs at other schools, and other districts in the city, some of them much closer to their homes. But the CHOSE to be there, at that school, with those students. They chose to serve that community and try to teach the kids that weren’t the highest academically. There were a few of us that were above average, but very few. I believe that I was in the group of the first ten students to be accepted at a private university and about the first to get a full academic scholarship. The student body wasn’t made up of shining stars. But the teachers chose to be there, often accepting a salary less than what they could get at an adjacent school district. Why? Because they were dedicated teachers. Their hearts were in the right place…with us! I think that’s why they were so inspiring. At least to me, they were the best. They were the epitome of what a teacher should be. I learned more than academics from them. They changed my life and not a day goes by that I don’t think of one or the other of them.

That’s what teachers should be. I’m glad I was privileged to have so many wonderful examples.

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My mind tells me that I have written about him previously but I can’t find any such post so today I will tell you about Mr. Henry who was my first period teacher my freshman year in high school so he was my first high school teacher, so to speak. The class was called Emerging Nations. It was taught by three teachers, each for a different quarter and the first quarter was more geography. So during my first quarter, Mr. Henry taught us the geography part of the class. That was the first time I really understood the seasons and the movement of the planets in our solar system. He used different sized spheres to simulate the planets and their orbits and a very bright light for the middle. The lights were turned off and he had some of us hold spheres and walk around the “sun.” During that time, he held the globe with which he simulated our orbit while also turning the globe on its axis so that we could see why we have winter while the southern hemisphere has summer, and so forth. That was the first time it made sense!

I also did a few after school jobs for him, typing and copying worksheets, for which he paid me. Then in my junior year, I was his teacher aid. Sometimes I supervised his class while he had to run to the office. Sometimes I typed and did clerical stuff. Not for pay but for school credit. In the summer I did a lot of typing for him and got paid.

Aside from being my teacher and sometimes employer, he showed he trusted me many times and we had a lot of deep talks about philosophies and psychology and world conditions. He treated me like an adult. He valued what I had to say, or at least I got that impression.

Through the years, I have kept in touch with him, even now, forty-two years after my graduation. During the most difficult times of my life, I have called him to talk and his advice has always helped me make decisions and hang on to my sanity.

John Henry was an excellent teacher. I have been a better person for having had him as my teacher.

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