We’re in the middle of the second round of state testing and therefore completely distracted, so when the principal sent everyone an email thanking the staff for being the best bunch of teachers on the planet, I was like… huh? This is a great week to feel appreciated. It got me to thinking about the teachers that I appreciate from back in the day. Mrs. Gunn in third grade, Mr. Morgan in 5th grade, Mrs. Williams, freshman year.
And then there was Mr. Walter Pikul, junior year chemistry. Man, we were told in advance by the seniors that he was weirder than the weirdest human alive. He’s apparently gone to seminary and was kicked out for driving his roommate to a nervous breakdown or something with all his talk about Jesus and God. I was afraid of him. He never smiled. NEVER. EVER!!! He had us line up the first day of class and he seated us alphabetically. I was one of only 2 girls in the class, and we both ended up in the back of the room. That didn’t go well. He couldn’t see us; we were always out shouted by the boys (most of the football team was in this class for some reason, did I mention it didn’t go well).
Polly and I came in one day about 4 weeks into the term and Mr. Pikul just looked at us, pitiful things on the back row behind loud McI. and Bonehead L..
Miss P. and Miss Z., please gather up your belongings and come sit on the front row.
He pointed at a couple of guys sitting up front, directing them to head for the back to our seats. We just looked at each other, gathered our stuff and moved up front. It made all the difference in the world. I could hear him, for starters. I could see the board. If he was conducting a demo at his lab bench, he usually asked one of us to help him with it. He had a friend who worked at the local refinery, and when the first of the oil from the Alaskan pipeline came in, he had a vile of it and I was the first person he handed it to.
His stories were weird and fascinating and conjured up all sorts of ideas in my head about mixing chemicals and blowing up things. Lab time was mind boggling, as he would wander around and ask questions that, on the surface, didn’t seem to have a damned thing to do with chemistry, but, once the conversation was over, made all the sense in the world. The last day of school, he handed me and Polly packets of organic chemistry problems and told us to have a nice summer. I finished the 20 page packet in a week.
I minored in chemistry at Purdue because of Mr. Pikul. Polly became a doctor. I’m not sure what all those jocks did with their lives; it didn’t matter. I’ve had this amazing career in industrial hygiene and now in education and hopefully soon in technology, because of that weird chemistry teacher. I appreciate the hell outta him.
He’s gone now. Passed away about 10 years ago now. I never got the opportunity to thank him for how he opened up the world of chemistry to me. I was never great at it, even in college, but I gained an appreciation for it that I carry to this day. I work hard daily to be the teacher at least one kid in my classes will appreciate. I have seniors who tell their classmates who don’t know me, “that’s Mrs. Stone, she was my science teacher. She’s great.”
I like that.
My daughter, the brand new preschool teacher, posted a note on her Facebook page today, thanking me, her aunt, grandmother, mentor at work and others for being the great teachers we were to her, in and out of the school building. It was nice to be acknowledged by the “know it all” teacher kid. She said she wants her students to look back one day and remember her the same way she remembers us.
Isn’t that what every teacher wants? Thanks Mr. Pikul… thank you so very, very much.
Who was the teacher that pointed you in the right direction and opened up the world to you?