Good teachers change lives

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By Rob Witwer

Did you ever have a really great teacher? Someone who changed your life?

I’ve been lucky to have more than one. In elementary school, I wasn’t the easiest kid — you could say I was pretty tough. These days I’d surely be diagnosed with ADD (actually, to say I had an attention deficit is a huge understatement). But Mrs. Arnold and Mrs. Ballangee stuck with me. It would have been easy to ignore this rowdy kid, but they put in extra hours, helping me learn what I couldn’t have learned on my own. I’m grateful they did.

In junior high, Mrs. Callaway saw my interest in world affairs, and she would tell me about current events during recess and before school. We didn’t see eye to eye on everything — the day after Reagan was re-elected, I asked her what she thought. “I guess I’m marching to the beat of a different drummer than everybody else,” she replied. But in those disagreements, I learned to respect opposing views, just as she respected mine. She challenged me to think for myself, to care about what was going on in the world, and to understand that there’s more than one way of looking at things.

And then there was Mr. Kloosterman, who taught me history and world politics in high school. He was a quiet, thoughtful man with a deep moral sensibility. One day a few of my classmates and I noticed that if we started class with a question about current events, we could divert his lesson plan into an extended discussion of that subject. So we tuned into the news, read the paper, switched our radios from KBCO to NPR — all so we could have something to talk about in class.

Little did we know, we weren’t distracting him at all. In fact, we were doing exactly what he hoped we would do. We didn’t even notice that we were spending literally hours a day doing unassigned work, learning so much in the process. And we were having fun doing it. At the end of the school year, it dawned on me that maybe we weren’t so clever after all — maybe all of this voluntary homework was the lesson plan.

When I asked him about it, he just smiled.

A good teacher is a lifetime gift. A good teacher will change your life.

Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, "The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care)."