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Let’s Hear It for a Few of Our Teachers

Let’s hear it for a few of the teachers in your life. That idea came after I was touched by a piece written by a woman in her 50s. She paid tribute to the teacher who taught her the word “Look.” Her first word. She went home in triumph knowing she could finally read.

She tracked down her teacher. The woman is 88 and living alone. The former student asked how many other former students have thanked her. The answer:

So, this is a humble tribute to the world of teachers. All of you have former students who are indebted to you for something they learned. Maybe something that inspired them. Or changed the course of their thinking. And in turn, changed the course of their lives. They would love to thank you. But they don’t get around to it.


You remember the little things teachers taught you, don’t you? Little things that in reality are big things. Because they stuck. (Maybe you could write to me with your memories?)

My memories include Mr. Mihalyi. my high-school science teacher. He disciplined hundreds of unruly boys with a few simple tools. One was his dignity. He was firm, fair, humorous, and ever dignified. Other teachers lashed us with lectures about our behavior — to little effect. Mr. Mihalyi said, “I am disappointed with you. I expect better from you.” Pow. Double pow. The most painful and lasting punishment we ever suffered was his disappointment.

Mr. Findlay taught driver’s ed. with lessons that lasted decades. He asked a student to back us out of a garage. The kid did everything Mr. Findlay had taught us — adjusted the mirrors, checked seat belts and doors, turned to look out the rear window while backing, and backed slowly. We all agreed he did everything correctly. “One small thing,” Mr. Findlay added. “Tiny thing, really. You backed over your toddler.”

And so, a thousand times since then, I have checked behind the car before I back out. And one time, I found a toddler there. Pow. How many people owe their lives to Mr. Findlay’s lessons? I often wonder.

The nuns taught me there was right and there was wrong. That in some cases there is no middle ground, no excuses, and no rationalizations. That some things are simply wrong and you should get over it.

They taught us about lies. These days so many people fling that word “lie” about. To put down political enemies. The nuns taught that a lie is when you say or write something you know is not true. Period. Their lesson comes to mind when I watch and hear political types squirm before committees and cameras. I yearn to hear from them: “Sorry. I lied.”

Petty Officer Sordahl taught us recruits the difference between two words we bandy about. “Why did this happen?” he asked. Because of this. Or that. Or them. “Those are excuses. I want to know the reason. Why did this happen?” More of this, that, and them. Until we got to his bottom line. “The reason this happened is because we screwed up. We acted stupidly.”

This was his technique to teach us to take responsibility. You begin to take responsibility when you recognize the difference between excuses and reasons. Not a bad lesson to learn when you will be going to sea. Everyone aboard shared the responsibility for keeping the ship safe and afloat.

When I fell asleep on watch and set a waste basket alight, his lessons came home. (We smoked on ships in those days.) I could blame the length of the double watch, or the bad ventilation. But Sordahl’s lesson had me pegged.

Mr. Bernie Block taught us to think, by example. He was our coach. Twice, we thrashed a far better basketball team, because he out-thought the other coach. The team had two guys who were deadly outside shooters. Coach knew they were not scramblers, not fancy dribblers. They hung around their favorite spots until the ball came to them and then pop, basket after basket.

Coach moved his two biggest guys from under the basket. Had them guard the small shooters out front. They had never faced gorillas waving their arms like windmills. They managed maybe 4 points between them. Brilliant bit of thinking. The sort of back-to-basics thinking that has a thousand applications in life.

Thank you Bernie, Mr. Mihalyi, Sisters of St. Joseph, Petty Officer First Class Sordahl, beloved lifesaver Mr. Findlay. And teachers everywhere.

Now it’s your turn.

From Tom…as in Morgan.

Tom Morgan writes about political, financial, and other subjects from his home near Oneonta. Several upstate radio stations carry his daily commentary, Tom Morgan’s Money Talk. Contact him at


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