In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Hillel Wayne, a member of our Engineering team, shares a personal story of a teacher from his past—one who inspired him to never stop asking questions.
Moving to a new school is hard. More so when you don’t know anyone there. Extremely so, if you’re leaving a tiny orthodox private school and going into a massive public one. I walked into my first class and saw more people in it than were in my grade. Conversations short and halting, no common ground—consequences of all my old friends being either deeply religious or simply text in chatrooms. It was the kind of place where you can disappear, which was exactly my plan. That’s how I wanted to spend the next three years.
Flash forward six years: finishing up my third year in college, coming back to the school for the last time. It was almost a different place, but still very much the same. A school is a function of its teachers. Students leave in four years, administrators come and go, but the school is the same if your old teachers are there. Most of them had left or retired since I graduated, but enough were still around that it remained my high school, not a different place in the same building.
First stop: second floor, math wing, same room I had my first class. I kicked open the door, barged through the stunned class, and pointed at the teacher while shouting “I have two questions!”
Todd didn’t even flinch. “Nice to see you, too.”
Someone once told me that nobody’s class ever changes your life: they’re too short and chopped up to really dent you. Fortunately, I had classes with my favorite teacher in high school: AP Calculus one year, Multivariable the next, and “hang out in his room during his planning period” the third. I think I can safely say that Todd Fadoir changed my life.
For one, he was very good at teaching. The kind that actually makes sure you understand the material, not just answer the questions. “Two questions” was sort of a running joke between us; I made sure I could ask a second because his answer to the first would be so comprehensive I’d learn how much more I needed to know. And he would never give up.
He held up a class for twenty minutes because I couldn’t wrap my mind around something (integrating over mass) and then spent forever outside of class making sure I knew it inside and out. It took us two days (eternity is short when you’re a kid), but eventually I got it down. I prided my math skills, but Mr. Fadoir showed that wasn’t enough. Being able to do problems is unsatisfying if you don’t “get” the problem, like being able to speak English but not read it.
Fadoir made me excited about the material and taught it well. Normally, this would be a good place to stop my story, but by stopping here I’d do him a huge disservice. Because getting students to know the material is not being a good teacher; that’s just being good at teaching.
Being a good teacher is about the people. It’s about pulling the new kid who doesn’t think he belongs into the class and making people respect him. Showing everybody that he’s nervous and curious and if you just give him a chance to open up, he’ll stop being guarded and start being Hillel. When he starts asking too many questions, telling everyone to stop joking about it—he’s trying to understand and he’s not going to if everyone laughs at him for asking. Teaching everyone that “I don’t know this” is infinitely better than a blank smile. When a student can’t get transportation to the AP tests, driving five miles out of the way to pick him up. Demonstrating that being a teacher doesn’t just end in the classroom, it’s a permanent commitment to making sure your students thrive. When he’s no longer in your classes but comes in anyway, saying, “I’m in a very bad place and need to talk to somebody right now,” a good teacher stops to listen. And care. Being a teacher is about helping someone build the comfort and confidence to, years later, kick open your classroom door and teach a bunch of strangers the math you encouraged him to pursue.
I’ve always wanted to give something back to him to show how important he was to me, how much I cared about him. I never really got a chance, or maybe it’s more accurate to say I never noticed the chances that I had. So when I was asked to write this essay for Teacher Appreciation Week, I knew immediately who to write about. A small gift, but a chance I’m not going to miss.
Todd, if you’re reading this, thank you for everything. I don’t think I can explain how much you mean to me, so this will have to do. Thank you.