In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Edmodo employees are sharing personal stories of teachers from their past—stories to show you that everything you do leaves a lasting impression years (sometimes decades) later.
I was not one of those who found high school especially traumatic or difficult. While I wasn’t a part of the popular kids clique, I wasn’t unpopular either. I played high school sports, got good grades, and was friends with everyone from the homecoming queen, to the president of the model U.N. club and the stoners who hung out in the parking lot. Despite having fairly eclectic tastes in friends, I have to admit that when I first laid eyes on my Algebra teacher, my first thought was “Oh, no…a hippy.” Mr. Dodd had a thick red beard, curly hair to match, and wore overalls and Birkenstocks. He even spelled his first name “Thom.” Not “Tom.” Nope. The hippy had to add an h.
I arrived several minutes early for Algebra one day. Having some time to spare, I pulled a magazine out of my backpack and began reading an article on Patti Smith. “I think Horses is one of the best albums of all time,” Mr. Dodd said as he walked by. Huh? What could some hippy, who had now taken to wearing wool socks with his Birkenstocks, possibly know about the high priestess of punk? I looked at him incredulously. “You have lunch next period, right? If you want, stay a few minutes after class. I just picked up something from this group, X-ray Spex. Lead singer is called Poly Styrene. I’ll play it for you. You might like it.” Thud. My jaw hit the floor.
Thus began a year of hanging out with Mr. Dodd during lunch. I joined a small group of other students who spent their lunchtime with Thom Dodd. I didn’t struggle in his class. We never worked on Algebra equations. He played music, recommended books, and talked about people and films I had never heard of. I first listened to a John Coltrane record during fifth period lunch. I also learned about the Dada and Surrealist movements. I became interested in the works of Dali and Man Ray. I learned about the Algonquin Round Table, read Dorothy Parker, and fell in love with the biting wit of George Kaufman. He explained to me who James Randi was and first introduced me to the concept of critical thinking and skepticism. I learned how to identify specific logical fallacies. I read the Beat poets. Fifth period lunch at Watsonville High School became its own moveable feast.
Eventually, sophomore year ended and I moved on. I never had a class with Mr. Dodd again. I do not even remember if he was still at the school when I graduated. At some point he seems to have vanished without a trace. I often wonder why he picked me and why he created a little lunchtime oasis for a handful of kids. Did it mean as much to him as it did to us? I assume he knew he was introducing us to people, movements, and ideas that we likely would not have received exposure to in our regular coursework. At the time, it was so exciting and new, and I was so young, I did not realize it was a gift from a teacher who had decided to invest a tremendous amount of time and knowledge in a small group of students. I did not know how rare that was and how it would impact the rest of my life. I look back at it now and I am astounded at the generosity of spirit, intellect, and artistry.
Never judge a teacher by their Birkenstocks.