My most influential teacher was my mother. As I was growing up, my sister and I enjoyed school and learning so much that every summer we would “play school”. My mom would give us little assignments and we would relish working through them. She also taught me to sew my own clothes, how to cook, and many other arts and crafts. She always supported my strange endeavors, whether it was playing the piano, woodburning, chemistry sets, or trying to install a modem in our computer so I could connect to Prodigy. While I was in elementary school, she attended college and received a degree in Occupational Therapy. She went on to work with very young special needs children for 20 years. Her tenacity, patience, and grace have always been a great inspiration for me.
One of my favorite teachers was Hal Swafford. He was my high school history teacher. A vivid memory of Hal is that once he was lecturing about complicity, perhaps about war, corruption, or malfeasance. Time, place, and setting are forgotten. But what I recall is how I was sitting on my hands attempting to warm them–because my fingers were cold and Oregon winter was biting. Mid-soliloquay Hal glanced at me, altered his story on-the-fly, and admonished our classroom about how there is a time for action–to say no, to resist, to take action, to speak-out, to GET OFF YOUR HANDS AND STAND-UP FOR A CAUSE. Though Hal delivered his words overtly to the class, encrypted by the context of a morning lecture, I knew his message was directed privately at me…a message to be more than an academic automaton, a commandment to think and act rather than simply believe…a formula to foment change, and ultimately a message of hope, expectation, and encouragement that perhaps one day I could lead by example. After freeing my palms from the plastic desk chair and wriggling fingers back into circulation, I glanced at the sign Hal hung next to the chalkboard that said, “Character is doing the best you can do when nobody is watching”. Though it’s been decades since I’ve seen Hal, these “silent” messages about initiative, diligence, and quality sans external recognition are the heart of authenticity. A drumbeat that I try to follow always, an anthem that I believe makes all the difference.
From k-12 all the way through graduate school — I’ve had the privilege to learn from many wonderful teachers. Too many to list or mention here. Teachers that have changed my life and continue to do so. There is one teacher, however, that I would like to thank today: the late Peter Nicholls, my first philosophy teacher. He was not a lecturer and did not use any technology in the classroom. He was very “old school” — all he needed was room to maneuver and his voice. His teaching style was Socratic through and through: he would walk around the room for almost the entire session, keeping an ongoing dialogue with the class, while stopping here and there to entertain specific student responses or crack a joke. He would challenge the class to think with him through philosophical puzzles and paradoxes, dialectically. Rather than give away the answer, he would keep the discussion going until his students arrived at the answer via their own thought process. In the Socratic fashion, he was a true midwife for knowledge. Thanks Peter, you are missed — but the doors of thought you opened will never close.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Bart Massey of Portland State University. As well as teaching me a lot about software engineering, open source software, computer ethics, networking protocols, and ethics he also gave me the knowledge that what I do has value. I’ve struggled a lot with having confidence in making my work public. Professor Massey, thank you for providing the confidence I needed to put my education to use.
Heeia Elementary School
My memory tells me Mr.Waite was seven feet tall. We were an intimate class of eight students. He gathered us up, his little flock, and sotto voce transformed the prosaic. He conjured lessons from his everyday experiences, often using local news to illustrate a point. Always this theme: knowledge will save you, but it means nothing without morality. I’m realizing now, he was the only teacher I’ve ever had who sat on the floor with us. He looked us in the eye. It’s been a long time, the memories are slippery. The impression is of a mind, uniquely challenged, crackling with awareness. Happiness. We had a good time. All of this buoyed by the feeling of being unexpectedly, unequivocally safe.
I’ve had many teachers who have helped shape the direction and form of my life, but one that stands out in my mind is Joel Franklin, my freshman year Physics professor at college. As a freshman, I was confused as to what I wanted to study and disillusioned with the field of Physics. I had convinced myself that the world of scientific research was not for me, and pursuing an education in the sciences would leave me in a sterile lab, buried deep in a maze of fluorescent-lit basement hallways, isolated from the world.
Joel’s own passion for learning and sharing his knowledge with others transformed the way I viewed not only Physics, but education and research in general. His willingness to speak with students anytime, anywhere about Physics and Math showed me just how connected people could become through academics; his enthusiasm for sharing the great revelations of scientific discoveries showed me how exciting the world of science could be, and the important role it could play in everyday life. My experiences in class with Joel motivated me to dig deeper into the mysteries of the universe we live in, and helped me find my own enthusiasm for learning.