I was recently struck by an article I read in the Arkansas state newspaper about a 91 year old woman who ran into her first grade teacher at a doctor’s visit. Yes, 91 — the teacher is now 102. She was only 17 when she taught this student. The student still remembered her teacher so clearly as a major influence in her life and a true role model. The teacher remembered the student as a “sweet little girl.”
Good teachers can have a life-long influence on their students — often, perhaps, without ever knowing how important they were. I had several teachers in grade school and high school who influenced my love of reading and writing; I was particularly swayed by my journalism teacher, Mr. Paulus, in high school. He named me editor of the school paper, which was a huge honor for me, and taught me the importance of clarity and ethics. My freshman English professor in college was one of the first people who ever told me that I could make a living with my writing. Her praise and encouragement meant a great deal to me.
But it was after I became a mother and had three children of my own in schools that I truly learned the value of a dedicated, passionate teacher. I saw the enthusiasm my children had for learning and achievement when they had teachers who challenged them and supported them and encouraged them. I saw, also, the waning of enthusiasm when their teachers were burned-out or not completely committed to their important, but admittedly difficult careers. We were fortunate to have many good teachers during our years in central Arkansas public schools, but there was one in particular whose influence will be visible in my family for the rest of our lives.
Bob Koorstad is an AP Biology teacher at Jacksonville High School. His dedication to his career is the first thing anyone learns about him upon meeting him. Though he has struggled with a visual impairment, he has never let that hold him back, and has never uttered a word of complaint that I’ve heard in the almost fifteen years that I’ve known him. He’s made himself available to my kids and his other students at seven in the morning, or after school in the afternoons. He loves his job, and his students.
He’s not an “easy” teacher. Some students don’t want to take his class because he makes them work and expects them to learn. But he is always there if they struggle, always available to help those who want the help and are willing to take the extra step to excel in his class. When my oldest daughter was critically injured in a college lab accident two years after she graduated from high school, Mr. Koorstad called every day to check on her. When she obtained her PhD in microbiology/immunology last May, eight years after that accident, he was at her defense, beaming like the proudest of parents. She will always be one of “his” kids.
Because of Mr. Koorstad, Courtney is pursuing a career in virology research and has excelled in her studies. Because of Mr. Koorstad, Kerry attended medical school, and will graduate with her MD in May ’09. Because of Mr. Koorstad, David is a biology major in college with the goal of attending medical school and becoming an opthamologist. Because of Mr. Koorstad, my nephew is finishing his residency in medicine/pediatrics. Because of Mr. Koorstad, quite a few other students have gone on to pursue degrees in science and medicine; while still others went into different careers but were at an advantage in college because they learned how to study in his class.
I thought of Mr. Koorstad today because this morning my husband and I attended “family day” at my son’s Honors College. I met several of his professors, and saw the enthusiasm and commitment on their faces as they mingled with their students and families. I know he’s fortunate enough to have more good teachers in his college classes. Our children need more Mr. Koorstads. More teachers like the one who lingered in a student’s mind for 85 years. And as parents, we need to express our gratitude whenever our children are lucky enough to encounter these very special professionals.