Wednesday, April 28, 2010

On SM Chemistry

I was really lucky to grow up where I did. I know that most of my teachers were good educators. Some were more memorable than others, though...and it's funny that my most memorable teachers were in the subjects that I had the hardest time with: math and science. Not that I wasn't good at them...on paper, I was. But it just took me WAY longer to "get it." And I was lucky enough to have teachers in those subjects who were understanding...who would meet me every morning at 7:15am to go over Pre-Calculus...and who would walk me through stoichiometry even though they had already explained it to me thirty-three THOUSAND times.

I've written before about my SM Physics class. "SM" stood for "Science Major." Or, as we liked to call it, "SO MUCH." As in, SO MUCH FREAKING CHEMISTRY. I had no business taking any SM class in high school. There was no way in hell I was going to be a science major, and by age 15 I knew that already. I knew it would be harder and I knew that if I worked at it, I could do it, and I was raised to never settle for something easy when you know you can do the harder one. So SM Chemistry it was.

Mr. Ule was one of those teachers who you could just tell loved coming to work every day. Even at 15, you know the ones who are just there for the paycheck, who are just buying the time until retirement, or who are there because there wasn't really anything else they found and they thought, well, I might as well teach. But he wasn't one of those. This guy loved his job, and he loved his students. And it made a class that was very difficult for me really, really enjoyable. I had to work--hard, by the way. I had to really earn that grade big time. And it definitely messed up my GPA a bit as it wasn't a weighted class or anything, but I just felt like it would be a better thing for me to do. I could do it--I had the ability, so to settle for anything lower seemed like cheating.

Some of my best memories were in that class.

To me, the best educators aren't necessarily the ones who are all buddy-buddy with their students, or who are mind-numbingly easy, or, on the flip side, pride themselves in being so hard and difficult and untouchable. I always felt like my best teachers were the ones who walked that fine line between caring so much for me and for the class and for the subject, but absolutely refusing to back down when it was time to challenge me.

(Even if that meant frustrating me once in a while.)

Because that's how guys like Mr. Ule did it. He guided, he cared so much, but he rose that bar just high enough that I really, really had to jump up high to get it. Even if it meant coming in early. Staying late. Reviewing over and over again.

I've long since moved on. There was and never will be any "science major" for me. I entered the same career as him--one full of challenges every day. I try now to be the best teacher I can, and walk that line that I believe makes you a great one--one that stands above all the rest. I know I have a long way to go. I hope someday I'm half as good of a teacher as Mr. Ule was to me: a student who had no business being in his "Science Major" class, but ended up loving it and growing from it.

And I can't help that think that teachers like him are partially the reason why I love endurance sports so much. Let me be clear: I'm no natural athlete. I have to really work hard at this. And as much as it frustrates me from time to time, I know that's why I love it. I credit him for developing me into a person who loves a challenge...who thrives on challenge. A life without challenges to me is just not a life, period.

It's ironic that on a day we were getting such great news about our family's battle with cancer, Mr. Ule was losing his. His family was getting ready to say goodbye. And when I heard the news today, I cried--not just because of his passing, but because I never really got to tell him how much this non-science major got from his class...and from him.

Thanks, Mr. Ule.


Christi said...

What a great statement to the teachers and people that touch our lives.

Alili said...

What a wonderful statement to teachers that make a difference in our lives.