Good Teachers “Can” Make a Difference

It was Halloween of my freshman year in high school.  Our English teacher, Mr. Eugene Prandato, walked into the classroom carrying a carved pumpkin and a candle, and turned out all the lights.  Whatever in the world could he be up to? I thought.  He placed the Jack-O-Lantern on his desk, lit the candle and placed it in a holder, and removed a book from the desk drawer.

pompkinFor the next forty minutes or so, Mr. Prandato read short stories to us from a collection of works by Edgar Allan Poe.  I was mesmerized.  Not only was our teacher an excellent sight reader, adding theatrical flourishes wherever he could, he was also a really good teacher. The first book I loaded into my Kindle device when I acquired it prior to my sixty fifth birthday was The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe.  As I read and reread The Cask of Amontillado, The Raven, The Telltale Heart, and other horrific tales, I could hear Mr. Prandato’s rich baritone voice in my head.  That’s the kind of impression he had made upon me and, no doubt, many of my classmates.

History always bored me to death, that is until my first year of college at Eastern Kentucky University.  Professor Walter Odum taught Introduction to  World Civilizations, one of the required courses that I dreaded. Upon entering his classroom that very first day back in 1964, I was struck by the sight of a series of scuff marks that formed a kind of dotted line across the front wall of the room, just beneath the blackboard.  Each mark was almost exactly the same distance from the floor to its location above. I couldn’t imagine what had made them.

SargonAs soon as Professor Odum entered the room, the mystery was solved. With a motion that indicated some mild irritation, the professor loosened his tie and removed his sport jacket. With his back to the blackboard, he raised his right foot and planted it firmly against the wall, and began to tell the “never ending story” of world history. New smudge. As he unveiled the significance of Sargon of Mesopotamia and other historical figures, he would pause occasionally, walk about, and then return to a different location along the wall, lean back and raise his foot, making yet another mark. To this day, I have a fondness for history that I can trace back to this endearing professor, who taught history as if it were a soap opera.

Throughout my formal education, I had many teachers, some better than others, but those who made the greatest impression upon me were those who were passionate.  They are the ones whose faces and voices I can still recall, over half a century later.  They made a difference!  Teaching is a noble profession, or at least it can be.  The difference lies in the commitment of the individuals, and their ability to connect with their students—regardless of what it takes to do it, be it candles, pumpkins, or smudge marks on a wall.

Note: In 1993, upon attending the 25th reunion of my class at EKU, I had the great fortune to encounter my former instructor, Professor Odum.  His hair was gray, and a little more stomach fell over his belt, but the engaging personality was still there.  I told him how much he had meant to me back then, and how much I enjoyed history today.  His smile was all the answer I needed.  He retired at the end of that year.


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About AuthorJoePerroneJr

I am a former professional fly-fishing guide, and I write the Matt Davis Mystery Series, which presently consists of four books: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day, Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises. The series is set in the real town of Roscoe, NY, in the Catskill Mountains, where I guided for ten years. I love fly fishing, movies, cooking (and eating), and music. To learn more about me and my writing, please visit my website at: http://www.joeperronejr.com.
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10 Responses to Good Teachers “Can” Make a Difference

  1. My freshman year in college (WVU – Engineering) had a required history course. Professor Wesley Bagby was passionate about history and his passion was contagious. It did not matter that I was in school to study engineering and could have regarded him and his class as a waste of time. He inspired in me a lifelong interest in history.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. balroop2013 says:

    After reading this piece, only one face flashes across my mind and that was Professor Matta, with a dome-like head and sparse hair, probably two or four. He taught Drama and Shakespeare but what endeared him was his approach towards us. The very first day he walked into our class and pointed at 6 of us. We stood up, wondering what had we done to offend him! And he smiled most benignly, saying…”you are the members of my literary club. Meet me after the class.” The mark he made on our hearts and personality, the friends he created out of that club he invited us to…made him a teacher with a difference!
    Thank you dear friend for evoking a very precious memory. 🙂

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  3. I, too, had several fantastic teachers who left a lasting imprint on my life, Joe. The first I had the good fortune to meet in first grade. Mrs. Wilson dressed up as Raggedy Ann for Halloween, but she was full of surprises every day. Mrs. Roy made poetry come alive in fourth grade. Miss Melcher shared her love of history in my freshman year in high school, where Mr. Weissmann embued us with the practicalities of math and business law. At university, I finally got hooked on science. With Professor Bird, everything was hands-on and exciting. Then, there was art. Professor Ron’s drawing 101 class gave me a new perspective on the world and every thing in it. These are only a few many who made a difference in my life. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

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    • I’m glad I was able to jog a few memories. We take so much for granted as we move through life, and unfortunately teachers seem to be on that list. It’s good to stop and remember occasionally. 🙂

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  4. Allie P. says:

    My high school US history teacher based his entire lesson plan around the various scandals that have marked our history. He would then explain the significance of the scandal and how it either accented qualities of society at the time or affected change. As a teenager, I have to say it was just about the most perfect way to teach what can become such a dry topic and as an adult has really made me better understand the things that happen today.

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  5. As a retired teacher, I can tell you how much joy there is to see the “light bulb” come into each and every student’s mind. Teaching is not the profession it used to be. That saddens me greatly. Teachers are too busy with discipline, trying to meet the needs of mentally and physically disabled students, and meeting standardized tests requirements to be able to give of their own self into the teaching process. Discipline should be done in the home and not have to be done in a classroom. Going to school should be respected and seen as a privilege not a right of passage. A teacher is not a babysitter. USA wake up! Lose our educational system and lose our democracy! It is as simple as that. There is nothing worse than to waste a child’s mind.

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