Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Tuesdays With Morrie & Me

I just finished reading Mitch Albom's wonderful book, Tuesdays With Morrie. I have watched Albom on ESPN's "Sports Reporters" for years, and I had an idea what the book was about, but I didn't know that Morrie had been Mitch's teacher. I think my reaction to the book is probably not unusual--I was inspired by Morrie's example, but I also felt guilty about how far I come from following it.

If you haven't read the book, it is based on weekly conversations between Albom and Morrie Schwarz, who had been his favorite college professor. These conversations took place during the last several weeks of Morrie's life, who was suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Morrie finally succumbed to the disease, but he had been determined to live his life to the fullest even as the disease gradually sapped him of everything but his incredible spirit.

One gathers that Albom was only one of many people who felt the way he did about his former teacher. Morrie was a person who was full of love for others and not afraid to show it. He was one of those teachers who seemed to make a very real difference in many of his students lives. I admire Morrie, but I also can't help but envy him. How can anyone envy someone who has died from ALS? I don't know, but I sure do.

As a teacher, I think I am a great manager. I set my classes up so that every student will be able to be successful, even the ones who don't have great aptitude in the subjects I teach. But I think I also do a good job of challenging my more able students. Doing both of those things at the same time is not easy, and it requires a lot of work. I think it would be fair to say that no teacher in our district works harder or puts in more hours than I do. So success is there for any students who want it, but if students are lazy, I am not merciful. Because of that, I am considered by most students and parents to be reasonably demanding. I also make frequent use of my sense of humor in my classes, and I'm not a yeller, so I am popular with most of the kids.

Despite all that, when I read about someone like Morrie, I feel like I've been missing something. I know I don't do enough to jack up those kids who fail. I know that I should be keeping them after class and getting on them more often than I do. I know that when kids do good things, I should keep them after class and encourage them more often than I do. I know that I should try to get to know more students better than I do. I ask myself, how many kids have I influenced the way Morrie influenced Mitch Albom and so many others, and I have to admit that my answer to that question is depressing. I've had good relationships with a lot of kids, especially kids who played hockey for me, but even in those relationships, Morrie puts me to shame.

I can console myself somewhat because Morrie did have a different situation than I do. After all, he taught in a college, not in a high school. Let's face it, it's got to be a lot easier to relate to college students than to some of the high school kids that I've had. One time, a few years ago, after a retired teacher had substituted for me, he was so frustrated with my Basic American History class that he said, "They should throw a grenade in that room, and lock the door." I doubt that Morrie had many classes like that. He also had an office with hours when kids could come and chat, giving him a chance to get to know them. He didn't have six classes, and a constant situation where as one class is leaving, another one is coming in. It's tough to get into meaningful conversations with students when that's going on.

Nevertheless, I know that those are just excuses. I know that there are high school teachers out there who have Morrie-like effects on a number of their students. I think I do a pretty good job of teaching, and I don't have that long before I hit retirement, but in the time I've got left, I want to be more like Morrie.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really think you probably make more of a difference than you realize. You never know which students you've impacted, as not all of them are going to let you know. I may not be a student, but you've been very supportive of me...and dare I say it, even an inspiration to me. I appreciate the advice, the support, the posts that make me think...all of it.

12/10/2006 9:04 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Thank you, AT! Although we don't get to see each other in action, I think it's natural that we form mental pictures. To tell the truth, when I read about Morrie, the teachers that I pictured being most like him were you and TMAO.

12/11/2006 3:03 PM  

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