Our Circle of Influence

Signing up for this semester’s grad class, “Teacher Research and Inquiry,” and hoping it isn’t half as dull as it sounds, I realized there were two sections on the same evening taught by different professors.  I sent a brief e-mail to my friends from school, asking for recommendations: “We all know that the teacher can be the difference between a great semester and a miserable one.”

I wondered idly how many of my students would place me in the second category.  In a way, I’m glad I don’t know; in general, the only ones who come back are those appreciate all the work you've put in and want to thank you for it.  I read this Times article recently with a lump in my throat, hoping that someday I might be worthy of that kind of devotion (but please, not a Facebook group):
In the weeks before the death last month of Jerry Sheik, a retired band teacher from Intermediate School 70 in Chelsea, his wife, Judith Kalina, said he was overwhelmed by the praise written on a Facebook page created in his honor, “Sheik’s Freaks Reunite: A Celebration for Jerry Sheik.”

The page has 135 members, mostly students from the 1970s who played in the stage band Mr. Sheik conducted. They have posted old band photos and recalled their rendition of “Oye Como Va.”

One former student, Melissa Sgroi, wrote, “There are few people that you look back on in your life and know they left an indelible mark. Thank you Jerry Sheik for being one of those people.”

Another of Mr. Sheik’s students, Ned Otter, said, “Jerry was the first one to put a sax in my hand.” Mr. Otter went on to play saxophone professionally, touring with Dizzy Gillespie. He is one of nine overseers of the Sheik’s Freaks page.

“He played a critical role in my life,” Mr. Otter added.

It's funny, but although teaching is often referred to as a selfless profession, ultimately, what we're doing -- filling young minds with our thoughts and ideas -- is pretty egotistical.  I tell myself that if I can convince just one student per semester of the evils of misused en-dashes, there will be more of me to go around -- I can retire someday and not worry about that stuff, since I'll have an army on the prowl for punctuation errors.  My Journalism students can rattle off several dozen of the public offices, so they know of the significance of Robert Byrd's passing and John Paul Stevens' retirement.  And when I've studied for the SAT with you, by golly, you know that test backwards and forwards, though you've lost respect for it after finding out just how much of it is pure psychology -- tricking you into answering with faulty logic.  Ultimately, I can't tell whether I'm doing this for them or for me.