by Father Mark Goldasich
“In the struggle between man and nature, nature always wins.”
It’s amazing what your mind retains. The above quote was the theme of a story from my high school freshman English class at Savior of the World Seminary.
The teacher was Father Al Rockers. It’s become a standard greeting whenever we see one another these many years later. One of us will proclaim: “In the struggle between man and nature . . .” and the other will reply with the rest of the quote.
Great teachers are like that: They make an impression on you that lasts far beyond the classroom. That fact is borne out in the following study conducted by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore:
Some graduate students were given the assignment to go into the slums and interview 200 boys between the ages of 12 and 16. The grad students were to delve into the boys’ background and environment and then predict their chances for the future.
After consulting social statistics, talking to the boys and compiling loads of other data, the grad students concluded that 90% of the boys would spend some time in jail.
Twenty-five years later, another group of graduate students were given the job of testing the prediction by going back to the same area. Some of the boys — by now, men — were still there, a few had died or moved away. Even so, they were able to contact 180 of the original 200. Only four of that group had ever been sent to jail.
Why did these men, who had grown up in a breeding place of crime, have such a data-defying good record? Again and again, the researchers were told: “Well, there was this teacher . . .”
Investigating further, the grad students discovered that in 75% of the cases, it was the same woman. The researchers went to interview the teacher, now living in a home for retired educators. How had she exerted such a remarkable influence? Could she explain why these boys should have remembered her?
“No,” answered the teacher, “no, I really couldn’t.” And then, thinking back over the years, she said, more to herself than the questioners, “I sure loved those boys.” (Story adapted from Meir Liraz’s “Top 100 Motivational Stories.”)
Love. That’s the consistent quality that every inspirational teacher conveyed to me: a love of their subject matter, a love of constant learning and, most importantly, a love of their students. From the School Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King who taught me in grade school all the way to the Jesuits and other professors from graduate school in Rome, I’ve been the recipient of a treasure that no amount of money can equal nor can anyone take it away.
Teaching is a challenging profession, made more so in these past 12 months by the pandemic. An unexpected benefit of COVID-19 is that many people came to recognize and appreciate all that educators do. Here are a couple of the more humorous observations:
• One meme noted: “If the schools are closed for too long, parents are gonna find a vaccine before the scientists . . .”
• A woman named Shonda tweeted: “Been homeschooling a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”
Although deserved, we can’t hope to give teachers the astronomical salaries Shonda proposes. However, we can celebrate and acknowledge them on National Teacher Day, observed on May 4 this year. Let’s shower them with the love they’ve shown to us or our children or grandchildren.
I’m hoping to treat Father Rockers to lunch soon, but only if he can complete this sentence: “In the struggle between man and nature . . .”