Monday, September 15, 2008

Honor Your Mentors

*This photo was scanned from my alma mater's alumni publication. If the photographer's name was given I'd credit that person. Unfortunately, it was not to be found.

The man in the picture is Dr. J., one of the professors in the Special Ed. department of the university where I earned my degree. He was, in fact, the founding chairman of the department. Special Education and preparing future teachers was not just a career path for Dr. J. It was a lifestyle. It was his calling.

When I went through the program he was teaching the introductory course and the course on assessment and planning. His intention was not merely that we have an overview of the history and philosophy of special education, or of the types of educational challenges students would present with, or what the biggest issues of the day were in this particular field. Yes, he covered all of that but he also wanted to build into his students a mindset of enabling our future students to achieve their highest potential. He wanted us to first be able to look at the world through the eyes of someone who was faced with difficulties, not so we could learn pity but so we could gain empathy. We spent some of our early classes "handicapped" in some way. Some of us were expected to take notes with our non-dominant hand or our notebooks were masked by a cover so we could only see to write in them by looking through a mirror. Some were given earphones which played a constant buzzing during the lecture. Many other modes were employed as well in order to simulate various learning disabilities and to frustrate our ability to attend and keep up. When the novelty wore off he spoke very quietly to tell us this was the sort of thing our future students lived with every day but it didn't mean they were unable to learn. It meant we'd have to be creative as to how we facilitated their learning and this is what we'd spend the next 4 years preparing to do. First lesson: Show rather than tell.

Dr. J. showed us much. He gave us an example of what occurs when theoretical knowledge and compassion are combined in a practical manner. Truthfully, I have to say the department was blessed with professors of this ilk. With the exception of one, each professor was genuinely skilled in his or her sub-specialty within the department and passionate about enabling students to reach their fullest potential.

By the middle of the semester I was bearing quite a load of guilt. As it happened his class was at 1pm, followed immediately by another class at 3pm. I also had a morning class from 10am until noon. If I was going to get any kind of lunch it had to be during the noon hour. Poverty stricken student that I was, that meant I had to eat in the commons where my meal plan was already paid for. I'd eat quickly since the line was always long and took forever to get through. Then I'd rush to Dr. J's class which was located on the second floor of a perpetually over-warm building. It is worth noting that Dr. J. had a deeply soothing baritone voice. Having a full stomach, sitting in a too warm room, listening to a hypnotic voice was a terrible combination in terms of maintaining alertness. I'd park myself in the very front row, right next to an open window in the hopes that it would help me stay awake because I really did value the class and very much wanted to pay attention. Nonetheless, I had many pages in my notebook where the writing turned into an indecipherable clot of scribbles as my fingers continued to form letters with my pen but my hand failed to move across the page in the process. I stopped after class one day to apologize profusely for my inability to stay awake, Dr. J. smiled and laughed and said he found it amusing to watch each day but he wasn't terribly worried about it because it was clear I was putting forth an effort in my work, grasping the concepts, and demonstrating great competence in other ways. He also reminded me that when I was teaching students with learning disabilities there'd be many times I didn't think they were paying attention but I'd find out they had soaked up much more than I thought possible, the overall outcome more than a single moment would be the proof. That's not to say he was a pushover. It was clear he wasn't going to cut a person slack if they weren't making any effort.

Dr. J. also worked tirelessly outside of the classroom. He advised local schools in their programs. Also, when their children were mostly grown he and his wife adopted an autistic boy who had been in foster care for a number of years. Dr. J. was equally passionate about advocating for foster children who so often had educational needs but were slipping through the cracks. In time their son grew from a boy prone to violent rages to a man who was the local "go to guy" when you had a broken or malfunctioning electronic device. Dr. J. didn't just lecture his students from theory, he was living every word of wisdom he sought to impart to us.

Dr. J. also took a good bit of interest in his students even after they graduated. He told them he'd continue to be a resource if needed. When Mr. Lime and I announced our intentions to move to Trinidad to begin a program focused on special needs students he was an ardent supporter who went out of his way to put us in touch with people who would be able to provide financial support. When we returned from Trinidad due to administrative problems which were beyond our ability to solve he continued to be a voice of encouragement as we struggled with a sense of failure.

Last week, I received the alumni publication with the above photo and the announcement of a new program in Dr. J's honor. Lots of other scholarships and programs have been established for various professors and deans over the years and I am cynical enough to say there's been a lot of self promotion in many of them. I am happy to see Dr. J. and his wife receiving some long due recognition, though I suspect he'd shrink from it to a degree and only agree to have his name on it if he is assured it is meeting the needs of the people he has spent his life serving. Today, I'd like to honor him here in my own small way.


Craver Vii said...


THAT is the kind of teacher I'd like to be. He really makes a difference. You are blessed to have been under his tutelage, and it's great that you honor him this way.

Cocotte said...

What a wonderful tribute! I can't tell you how thankful I am to the caring teachers and therapists who have made an impact on my daughter's life. We will be forever grateful.

furiousBall said...

although I doubt I could ever be a teacher full time, that truly is the greatest reward - I still remember the teachers that made a difference in my life from kindergarten to college.

javajazz said...

these beautiful caring souls
like Dr. J, are one in a million.
how very lucky you are to have
your life touched by
such a compassionate
understanding teacher...!

VE said...

I thought Dr. J played professional basketball back in the late 70s and early 80s in Philly. Wow...he's versatile!

S said...

He seems like a really cool person. You can tell by his lovely smile that he is definitely special.


Logophile said...

I'm so glad you did.
I'm glad too that your university is honoring him, sounds like one of the times when an honor and an honorable person meet up, always good to remember that it does happen.

Breazy said...

That is how I think all teachers should be, however they are a rare find these days....most teachers worry to much about their monthly pay.

Have a great day!

barman said...

Wow, that actually bright a tear to my eye. Me and my leaky eyes.

What an incredible person. Not just as an instructor but as a human being. The University (and you) are lucky to have him.

When growing up I had two instructors in High School that were indredible teachers. The made me want to be in their class, classes that I noramally do bad at. In the end I passed but it was much more a part of them that they passed on to me that made all the difference in the world.

I hope this was not the first honor they had for Dr J. He sounds like someone that would rather not be part of such awards but still, it just ws such a right thing to do.

lime said...

craver, yes, being around him could only make you aspire to similar noble purpose.

cocotte, i am so glad to know your daughter and you have been blessed by skilled and caring professionals

furiousball, the good ones leave an indelible mark don't they? :)

javajazz, lucky in deed!

ve, want an athlete? one of my other profs in the same dept was dr. m....he could easily whip your butt on the raquetball court into his 60s

s, yes, you really can see it in his eyes and his smile. i am glad you noticed :)

logo, definitely noteworthy when those two positives converge!

breazy, like any profession, there are gems and there are turds.

lime said...

barman, the ones who can motivate the resistant students are special for sure. and yes, dr. j is a very humble and gentle soul.

Suldog said...


There are so many fine people who enter our lives and make a profound difference, but rarely do we honor them commensurate to their effect upon us. Good job.

Anonymous said...

Cheers to Dr J! How wonderful of you to honor him, Ms Limey :)


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful man and a wonderful post!! Love it! :)

lime said...

suldog, and really this little post doesn't begin to do him the honor he deserves.

blither, mssolitaire, i am glad you enjoyed.

Kathryn said...

This brought tears to my eyes.

There are so many amazingly wonderful people out there. If only I could meet them all.

What an inspiring man.

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Desmond Jones said...

Thanks for this, Lime

You remind me of a couple of my own professors who taught me rather more than just the equations and techniques. . .

lecram said...

Bravo, Lime for this post! Yes, those (as you perfectly exampled in Dr. J) are the ones who make the difference... by doing. They don't do it for the kudos (which are richly deserved) but for the passion and love for it.

RennyBA said...

What a great contribution written with love and passion to a man who certainly is a roll model not only for teachers!

lime said...

kathryn, he really is an inspiring person yet in such an unassuming way

desmond, so glad to know you had some inspirational mentors as well

lecram, the man lived his beliefs and his passions, no doubt.

renny, thank you for the kind words. and yes, he is a model as a fine human being in every sense of the word

Maddy said...

Well I certainly was not expecting that!

He sounds like my kindofa guy.

BEst wishes

The Zombieslayer said...

I stopped after class one day to apologize profusely for my inability to stay awake, Dr. J. smiled and laughed and said he found it amusing to watch each day but he wasn't terribly worried about it because it was clear I was putting forth an effort in my work, grasping the concepts, and demonstrating great competence in other ways.

Lime - Good idea to do this. I was on drugs (allergy, back when they sucked and made you go to sleep as a side effect) throughout high school and would fall asleep in class all the time, causing myself to be not so popular with the teachers. Looking back, I should have really said something, but as a kid, you don't realize that adults have feelings too.

As for adopting special needs kids, I think a lot of people try it and realize they're over their heads. I know one personally who kept falling through the cracks because of that very issue. It's a lot of work, and too much for the majority of people to handle.

If life wasn't so fast paced, and if this country didn't almost require a dual-income to stay out of poverty, it would be much easier. I'm wondering if one of the main culprits of this problem is economic.

Dr. J himself, wow! I wish I could half as good a man as this guy.

Mona said...

Dear Lime, This is one of the most beautifully wonderful post that you have written. I love the way you impart information about a soul most noble and dynamic.

If you ever meet Professor J Please offer my due respect to him from across the oceans and the other side of midnight. You have been extremely lucky to have been touched by such a noble soul!

lime said...

maddy, i thought you'd likely appreciate dr. j ;)

slayer, i mainly didn't want him to think i was a slacker so i really appreciated knowing he didn't think i was.

mona, thank you for the kind words. he was a marvelous teacher but as i mentioned briefly the department was full of them. really some very high quality people and a sense of community within the department.

Beach Bum said...

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awakenjoy in creative expression and knowledge.
Albert Einstein

G-Man said...

Was this your Term Paper for that class?

I Keeed,I Keeeed..

Nice tribute Trini...G

david mcmahon said...

I could not agree more

Anonymous said...

Teachers with the gift to motivate are few and far between. It's good to have at least one that spurred you on...

lime said...

beach bum, what a wonderful quote. thanks so much for sharing it.

gman, lol

david, glad to hear it

coopernicus, the good ones really do leave a deep impression.

Cheesy said...

***** golf clap***** for the J-man!

VE said...

Racquetball? Not necessarily. I played tournaments in the late 80s early 90s. Yeah, baby, I'm versatile! Ok...I stopped when this huge guy hit me in the butt with a ball so hard I had to forfeit the tournament!

lime said...

ve, i kid you not. the guy played raquetball in the senior olympics. he was an animal.

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