Remembering and Celebrating Teachers, For the Record

Just got back from a fantastic, if ridiculously hot, 20th high school reunion — I’ve got some reflections I’m planning to post later tonight.

But one of the problems with reunions generally is that they’re only really focused on the graduating class of a particular year — and, extremely importantly, not on the teachers who were so influential in influencing our thoughts and relationships. Reading Harvey’s post about his own influences, I decided I wanted to take a few minutes and write about the most influential school teachers in my own life — I wanted to get it into their permanent record, so to speak.

At least 2 of the 10 below have passed away, and several have retired — but at least 2 or three are still teaching. I’d wager that a few of them knew that they had a meaningful impact on my life — but I doubt any of them really know how much. A lot, it turns out — so much so that I remember their names & faces & interactions 20 — and in some cases 30 — years later.

So for the record, these are the most meaningful school teacher influences in my life so far — they went way beyond the classroom and still affect me today. In more or less chronological order.

Mrs. Kelly was my kindergarten teacher in Rome, NY, and we just really, really got along. She was as kind, challenging, and supportive as anyone could ask. And when we got ready to move to Omaha for first grade, she came to my house and gave me a camera so I could take pictures of my journey.

Mr. Fuke was my 5th grade teacher at OK Adcock in Las Vegas Nevada (I must’ve had good teachers in Omaha, but don’t really remember any). I remember Mr. Fuke for three primary reasons: (1) he was the first Hawaiian person I knew, (2) at the end of every day he made up a little more of a serial story — I remember vampires, but who knows — that had everyone in the class riveted, and (3) he was the first teacher who really was comfortable with letting me go at my own pace, and encouraging me to do it.

Anthony Vicari was our band director in 7th grade at Garside Junior High (Las Vegas), and also taught AT (academically talented). I remember loving those classes, just really loving them, and being challenged by them. I think he recently retired as a middle school principal, where he must have been fantastic.

Bill Brady was our band director freshman year at MacArthur in San Antonio. He died just a couple of months into the year, which was my first real experience with death. But the foundations that he had set up were strong, and the persistence of the organization was amazing. I’ll write more about it in my post about the reunion, as band in high school was a singularly rewarding experience.

Linda McDavitt became Mac’s band director the following year, coming into an impossible situation, following an institution, and she was amazing. I learned a lot about how to be a leader from her, as we went from sophomores to juniors to seniors and became the leaders of the band.

Laura Niland was my 10th grade Algebra 2 teacher at Mac, and has got to be the snarkiest teacher I ever had. She just really encouraged me to like math, and to have the fun that I did while doing it. She let us get away with a lot we probably shouldn’t have, too.

Drucie McRae was my 10th grade English teacher — she also probably let us get away with a lot we probably shouldn’t have. Honestly, I don’t remember a single book we read in that class or a single thing I wrote — I don’t even remember liking the content very much. But I remember Ms. McRae as being the first of our teachers who really treated us as adults, met us on our own terms, respected us. That counted for so much at that point in our lives. And the English stuff must have caught, too, as reading & writing are what I love now.

Janice Cooper (not totally sure I have her first name right) taught senior Government & Civics. She was super-challenging to me, and really encouraged me to work through what I thought. (Which, I have to say, must have been extremely trying on her patience, as I was an idiot. I still am, from time to time, but what she taught me about civic engagement & independent thinking persists and mostly means I’m not too big an idiot.)

Phil Campbell taught me Physics I & II, in 11th and 12th grade, at Mac, and of all the classes I’ve taken in my life, I think his was the subject matter that most engaged my full brain, that got me thinking the hardest and working the hardest to actually solve problems. I heard that he passed away a couple of years ago, and was sad to hear of it. I really, really liked those classes.

Randy Thomson was probably the single-most influential teacher of my school life. He taught Latin, which I took in 10th, 11th & 12th grades, and sponsored the Latin club, in which we competed in something called Certamen — I’d call it a sort of Jeopardy! for nerds, but that seems kinda redundant — so let me just say that it’s something we loved doing and practicing for and spending time on, and Mr. T, as we called him, was just always there for us, and always pushing, and encouraging, and teaching. I think he still teaches Latin now, at a different school in the same district, and it gives me great joy to think of all the people who have gotten to experience Latin and Rome with him.

So that’s it — my list of school teachers who had the biggest impact on my life, 20-30 years later. This post doesn’t do any of their work justice, but maybe it’s something at least.
Who were your most influential teachers?


  1. you were very lucky to have those teachers.

  2. Hey, John. Your old (very old) high school classmate here. I totally agree with your comments about Niland, McRae, Campbell, and Thompson. They were my favorite teachers, too. I wish that I had been less stupid back then and could have better expressed my appreciation for them. Mr. Campbell, in particular, was a terrific teacher and an ever better person. Some of my fondest high school memories involved his classes.

    I hope that you are doing well.

    Mark Domel

  3. what a lovelly class reunion going on here.
    i guess that puts you arround 40 ? a John ?

  4. I agree with Norma. Good luck in life man!

  5. I second John’s comments about Mr. Vicari. He definitely had just as big an impact on me and I still consider his AT class the best academic preparation I really ever got for college, despite it only being a 7th grade course.

  6. I love the first comment. Nothing sums up this post better.