Thursday, October 6, 2016

Have you thanked your favorite teacher?

In elementary school and the early years of high school, I had a good but not great understanding of mathematics. I knew just enough to be dangerous and to get only above-average grades.

But, then, something happened in the eleventh grade.

It was like I had discovered the Rosetta Stone to higher math. The floodgates opened and even relatively complex arithmetic become easy. It was an acquired skill – a new mindset -- that then allowed me to prosper not only in college but in my professional life as well: As any good businessperson will tell you, their career revolves around numbers and you’d better have a very good understanding of them or it will be the death of your business.

So, what was it that led to my awakening?

Was it intellectual maturity? Was it the subject material being taught? Did years of schooling create a foundation that I was now able to build upon?

The answer is “maybe, to some small degree,” to all of the above.

But, without a doubt, the biggest reason I was able to go to the next level was my teacher, Kerry Finger.

Mr. Finger’s style of teaching changed the way I saw math – what I had once considered useless number science only befitting textbooks and the mundanity of the classroom was transformed under his watch to something useful that I could capitalize on to make complex decisions in day-to-day life. He continually walked us through real world examples, teaching us himself rather than having a boring book do it. He made us master the minutiae and the significant. He made it entertaining, too -- his approach of using good-natured ribbing to goad excellence out of the students did just as it was intended. 

Mr. Finger personally delivered my mathematics wake-up call and I was fortunate enough to have him as a teacher in my junior and senior years. He changed my life for the better.

As the years went by and I applied what he taught me to work (and even these columns), I developed a sort of guilt that I hadn’t properly thanked him for that when I was in high school. Then again, maybe I couldn’t have at the time because I wouldn’t have had the proper perspective of how important his lessons would become to me.

So, I looked him up, but found that Mr. Finger had moved out of Western New York. He had gone to the Chicago area. Luckily, as Facebook became vogue, I found his wife online and then had a way to reach out to him. So, I penned him a heartfelt thank you and made sure he understood the impact that he had on my life. It was a “thank you” that he appreciated.

At the past June’s commencement ceremony at my alma mater of Royalton-Hartland, I told the graduating class that they should take the time to thank their teachers and their parents for making them who they are. I wonder now in retrospect if maybe I should have told their parents to offer a “thank you” of their own to their Roy-Hart teachers of old. It’s meaningful dialog to have with the men and women who dedicated their careers to changing lives and I think it means more coming from a former student from long ago because that student now has, as I had mentioned, the perspective necessary to understand who they were, who they have become and where they are going as a result of the education and life lessons given them.

My challenge to you, dear reader, is this: Thank your favorite teacher.

Your teacher will savor it…and so will you.      

 From the 10 October 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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