I am so saddened by the news of the untimely death of a professor who impacted my decision to become an educator in ways I didn't know were possible, nor so genuinely important, before I met him. Selfishly, my sadness is just as equally rooted in my own disbelief that I won't be able to go to this person and speak with him about my journey in the world of teaching, to hear his words of comfort and to be supported by his wisdom, as it is a reflection of my sadness for the suffering of him and his family.
This professor was one that not every student understood. He loved building boats, folk storytelling, traveling all over to learn new things and, more importantly, to meet new people and find out how they lived. Some students groaned about his tendency to opt for a storytelling approach to learning, not quite wanting to sit quietly and patiently listen to his words. Some were not up for the challenge required by the type of thinking he was asking us to do. And some, like in every college course, just wanted to know what to do to get a good grade.
But this professor's courses were so profoundly important to those of us who knew--or at least though we knew--what he was getting at. We returned to class again and again to be filled up by his good sense and to engage in dialogue that stimulated our abilities to think critically about the pedagogical underpinnings of our practice. This was the professor to bring so many crucially important writers and educators to my attention for the first time--people whose writings formed the basis of what I do and why: Paulo Freire, John Dewey, Debbie Meier, and countless others. And this is the first professor (not the last) I had in my studies at the college who made me believe that I could create the classroom I imagined, and more. He filled us with the confidence to develop the core beliefs that would refine our visions of our purpose in schools, and the confidence to question those beliefs and purposes, to reflect on whether they rang authentic.
I can talk all about how wonderful this professor's courses were, and the myriad ways in which his lessons shaped the person I am today. Every professor changes you a little bit, each adds something to who you were and really does impact who you will become. But what was special about this guy, what makes the influence he had on us qualitatively different from that of some other professors, was his kind, unflinching way of helping us confront those questions that not only furrow the brow of one's teacher self, but one's student self, one's spiritual self, one's social self, one's whole self alike.
To recall this professor's memory is to recall a very certain peacefulness. I know that although I won't be able to go to him to speak with him about my journey, about the becoming I am doing and will be doing for some time, I can always return to what he's taught me, reflect on it, and go out into the world better because of it.
Please think of Terry and say a prayer for him.