It is common knowledge that teachers play a key role in the development of their students' minds and outlook on the world around them. But this oftentimes cliché about the importance of educators never really hits home until a beloved teacher is suddenly gone.
My senior year high school English teacher passed away on Saturday. Although it's been over 20 years since I sat in his classroom, the thought that he would no longer be able to pass along his wisdom hit me like a high-speed train.
My reaction seemed a little extreme, but after thinking about it for a while I realized that I still picture all my old teachers and principals, lunch ladies and campus supervisors, doing the same old thing, even decades later. The school life I grew up with is captured in situ forever in my mind.
I've actually been back to my old high school at least four times since I graduated. I know intellectually that teachers have come and gone; there's a new principal; and even a new building. But my irrational side still believes the Hamilton Heights High of my youth still exists out there somewhere.
The news of Mr. Griffey's passing spread like wildfire through the rural Indiana area where I grew up — and beyond. An avid Facebook poster, Griff's family was thoughtful enough to leave a message on his account about his death. The posting was flooded with comments of condolences and good memories of Mr. Griffey.
Along with the traditional 'he was a great teacher' posts, were comments from German exchange students about how he made their American experience worthwhile and there were even a few posts saying Griff was the reason they stayed in school. This, I believe.
Mr. Griffey was one of those teachers who related to every student. He could talk up the benefits of reading Shakespeare to the "stoner" crowd, and then turn around and challenge an honor student to reach the next level in his or her writing.
He also coached football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, track and cross country; spreading his love for sport with the benefits of getting involved in school activities.
There are very few educators out there who can reach across the social-clique system of most high schools and make a difference. But every teacher can and does have an impact in their students' lives.
If you are a teacher remember that your work will help mold who the next generation will be. Know that the positive impact you make on society as a whole, and in the individual lives of your students, can never be measured or properly compensated for.
If you are a student, or former student, take a minute to realize and appreciate the teachers out there who steered you onto the right path or encouraged your dreams. Don't wait until your mentors are gone to express your gratitude. I happen to know that teachers still like apples; or just a thank you will do.
"Dare to be great, dare to be Griff." — Scott Griffey, 1946 — 2013