Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What makes a teacher?

Those of you who know me know that I was never much of an academic. For most of my time in the hallowed halls I viewed my work as something to be endured and pushed through in order to keep one or more people in my life off my back. Most of my teachers and ultimately professors simply had me regurgitate information and those that asked for original thought really only wanted to see if I had discovered what they wanted me to see, not what I actually thought or found. This all changed one fall at the University of St. Thomas when my roommate charged through the door and exclaimed - "you have to to take Graham Thatcher's class, you'll love him." This turned out to be an understatement. The rhetoric class was already full, or at least theoretically it was with 30 people or so. Graham ultimately let about 50 of us in. He asked us to stand on the shoulders of all the great philosophers and orators that had come before and handed us a copy of William Safire's "Lend Me Your Ears".  He then proceeded to set our minds on fire with all the possibilities that came with powerful persuasiveness. Looking back, the experience could have been a classroom scene from "The Dead Poets' Society" with one or more students Yawping from a desktop; throwing conventional approaches to classical teaching theories on speech and rhetoric out the window of a speeding bus. I was never better as a student. My work was mine for the first time. Unfortunately, like Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets' Society, Graham faced the ugly side of academia and had to resign as head of the Communications department. I resigned shortly after. Graham has since gone on to build a successful business portraying everyone from Clarence Darrow to Justice William O. Douglas in a series of one-man two-act plays recounting these great legal minds and their amazing use of rhetoric to help shape our nation and it's laws. He is so good at his portrayals, that his audiences are usually comprised of mostly lawyers who get CLE credit for attending!

I had the privilege of attending his first performance at St. Thomas, reenacting the "Monkey Scopes Trial" as Clarence Darrow in 1993. I mention this because just last night I got to see him again in Charlotte, NC performing "The Impeachment of Justice Douglas". Over 17 years had passed since I had seen my old professor, but sitting in that front row last night, I was once again a student, only this time the homework, not assigned by him, was to go and find my speech.

Thanks for being a real teacher Dr. Thatcher - God knows there aren't enough of you.


oldpoetsoul said...

Being a great teacher and remaining employed as a great teacher require conflicting skill sets sometimes. Sorry he had to resign, but it sounds as if he landed on his feet! I bet it's an interesting show.

Debbie said...

Well, don't leave us hanging. Did he recognize you? Did you speak with him afterwards?

4thBG said...

Debbie - I went as his guest, we had been in touch prior to his visit. This was just the first I had seen him in all that time. He did recognize me and we spoke for as long as time would allow between the performance and the panel discussion. Amazing how, in some respects, time does not seem to pass.