“Did you ever have a teacher who set you on fire? He or she sparked in you an enthusiasm for the subject taught that burned so brightly you couldn’t wait to learn more.”

I have Roy Williams to thank for the fact that I sat down and finally put the words together about this teacher who rocked my world. I got back in touch with that Number One Fan of mine, and I touched base with a piece of my past that has been buried deeply like a diamond, to discover that respect does not dwindle when it is put away for a time.

Did you have a teacher who rocked your world, one who put the stars in your grasp and who turned your perspective on its head? Maybe you can submit that information, and maybe time’s too short. Whether or not you participate in Roy’s contest, why not take a moment to salute that teacher sometime soon?

“Why the World Would Be a Different Place if Every Teacher Was Like Mr. D.”

It started not long after I first walked through the shop door. You could only get to the ag classroom by going through the shop, which was filled with things that inspired fear and awe in me.

Hey, I just wanted to find the fast track to vet school, I grumbled to myself. This doesn’t look like it has anything to do with animals! Even so, that shop was full of adventure, and the classroom was full of a different sort of teaching and learning than I could have expected. The man in charge, Mr. Louis Damschroder, didn’t look amazing and the only distinction between him and every other teacher in my high school lineup was a certain familiarity with us, a comfort level that I had never known an adult to have, an interest in us that went all the way down to who we really were as humans.

In four years of ag classes, my goals changed from wanting to be a vet to wanting to be just like this fabulous teacher. It wasn’t that he never told me no as a student, it’s that he never discouraged me from trying, even if failure seemed certain. He didn’t push; he inspired. He shone light on what seemed impossible, and stepped back. He came to class dressed up as a cheerleader when he lost a bet with a student, and we learned that his honesty was complete.

When a high school senior we all knew died of cancer my freshman year, we stopped our lessons and talked about what death really means. When a classmate of mine died in a car crash the following year, there was no talk of animal nutrition in ag class and no welding out in the shop. Instead, we turned our attention to the brevity of life and the importance of our priorities. We talked about what we really needed to be doing in our lives. Ag class was as much about real life – on or off the farm, in or out of the agricultural industry – as it was about learning facts for a test.

I especially remember a trip back from my first State FFA Convention, sitting shotgun while everyone in the back slept as we drove home. I couldn’t sleep, because the excitement that came from the convention was pumping through my veins stronger than a triple shot of espresso. “You know,” I ventured, “I think I could do that!” I was referring to the state FFA officers, who somehow seemed accessible to me. I was referring to the awards I saw presented, which had been made worthwhile. I was referring to the change I felt in myself, from a gawky freshman to a more polished sophomore.

“Yes, Sarah, I expect you will.” Mr. D. didn’t waver in his reply, and he didn’t express any doubt. There was no condition in his response, there was only unconditional support. In that sentence, I felt that I had his support and that he would be proud of me for trying, wherever that took me.

Mr. D. believed in me – and in every student he has had in his classes – and helped me learn to tread clouds. He was the one who smiled when my head was so far out that everyone practical in my life was screaming in frustration, and he was the one who promised me I wouldn’t be sorry for trying, even if it was at the expense of time and money. He was the one who opened the ag classroom three hours before school so I could work on the scholarship applications that would have to pay for my college education. He was the one who hugged me when I came to school sobbing because my parents heartily did not approve of my college plans.

Mr. D. has always been happy with who he is, and he is a great teacher because he’s not just biding his time until retirement, but delighting in the journey and sharing his joy in the travels. Teaching is as much a part of what makes him a complete person as the food he eats and the air he breathes. What he does is, first and foremost, care about his students and recognize them as complete human beings. He specializes in blowing on the embers deep within his students and setting them on fire to try, to learn, to do. What would the world be like with classes of hands-on outdoor activities as a regular part of the curriculum? How would students be different if the phrase “that can’t be done” was replaced with “well, let’s try”? Where would the limit be if the foundation of the student-teacher relationship was unconditional respect?