Friday, April 25, 2014

A Teacher's Legacy

As a teacher, I always hoped that I would make a difference in the lives of children, and I always felt that that would be my legacy to the world.  I made meaningful memories, I gave time and attention, and I put in 100 per cent effort.  A huge part of that came from my parents, but a portion of it came from a very special teacher who passed away recently.

In the ninth grade, I was mousy, quiet, and incredibly shy.  I was a good student, but socially I was awkward, despite a small group of close friends.  After about a month of school, my best friend begged me to join the Air Force Junior ROTC program at the school.  The program was at an all-time low for recruitment, and without enough students they would have to close.  

After a frustrated artist ripped my attempt at gradation into two pieces, I went to guidance, who told me there were no available classes during that time slot.  When I told her there was a spot in ROTC, she tried everything to convince me not to join--and I'm certain she was part of the problem in regards to the numbers.  Ignoring her advice was possibly the best decision I made in my entire high school career.

I excelled in ROTC--where there was order, and a chain of command, and specific jobs to perform.  It was a place where I could finally figure out how to be myself, in that sea of uniformity, but it wasn't until adulthood that I realized that the instructors, Major and Sarge, were the reason.  Major was a short, round-bellied little man with a combover and a mini-mustache.  He passed away this Easter Sunday, causing a flood of memories to come rushing back, along with an adult's appreciation of his dedication.  It was easy to think of him at the time as goofy and funny; but looking back now, he drove from New Hampshire to South of Boston every single day to make a place where a bunch of misfits could fit in, and thrive, and he did it for 16 years.  

There were life lessons.  I remember one day Major asked me what I did that weekend, and I said my Dad had come to take me to McDonald's, and "not anywhere special."  Major read me the riot act.  My Dad had driven down from Middleton, an hour and a half drive without traffic,just to see me, and a lot of divorced Dads didn't bother to see their kids, period.  I never forgot that conversation, and never thought about my Dad's visits the same way again.

There were conversations with my Mom, who knew I had an anxiety disorder, so I couldn't eat in public.  Whenever we went away on encampments I was subtly checked on, and it was impressed upon me that I needed to eat to make it through the obstacle course or orienteering or whatever activity that was planned that day.  

He pushed me to apply for higher and higher positions, until I was commanding his squadron in my senior year.  He made sure I applied for a scholarship, and that year four of us received ROTC scholarships.  I ultimately turned mine down, for many different reasons, but Major did more to encourage me to pursue life after high school than my guidance counselor ever did.  

I volunteered after high school, for a few years, and in 1998, 8 years after I graduated, I invited him and his wife to my wedding (to another alumnus.)  Sadly, a few years later, I lost track of him--after I had kids.  I have to hope that he knew the great impact he had upon his students.  My Facebook news feed is full of sad comments, but good ones too--about how much he meant to them, and how much he changed the course of their lives.  

Here's to you, Major.  Thank you for your dedication, for your effort, and your attention.  I can only hope that one day my legacy will be as great as yours.

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