August 28th, 1995, was a day that I will never forget.
I had gone from class to class, listening to teachers discuss the syllabi, go over grading expectations, rules, procedures, introductions, ice breakers, and stories. I was completely bored out of my mind and was looking forward to 3:00.
I had just one period left before the end of the day. Several friends and I all had social studies in Room 25 with a new teacher, Mr. Haas. We frankly didn’t even know how to pronounce his name.
Once we entered, we heard a voice that commanded–not requested–us to sit. It was low-pitched voice that spoke sternly and forcefully without yelling. We knew to obey–no questions or comments. Mr. Haas didn’t go over the syllabus that day or discuss world history. He merely discussed the fact that many of us had gotten used to the game of school–working as little as possible and expecting A’s in return. He said that those people (of which I was certainly a member) would have a tough time in his class. I, along with many classmates, was frightened out of my wits.
The next day, he asked us to describe the room. I dutifully obeyed by counting how many tiles were on the ceiling and what posters were on the wall. When we finished, he said that thinking could take place on three levels: people who counted the desks and chairs, people who thought that this was a room, and people who described it as a history classroom with high expectations. He said that the first level was like a train, where our thought simply went forwards and backwards. The second level was like a car because it started to make connections and look beyond the obvious. The third level–which is what he expected from us–was like a helicopter. It was plainly obvious that I would have to learn to think more analytically to survive in this class.
After these first few days, I realized that although Mr. Haas seemed mighty scary, he was truly a once-in-a-lifetime teacher. He brought passion to every lesson; history mattered to him. He showed genuine rage when we covered Christopher Columbus’ massacre of the Arawak Indians. He raged against the ignorance of people who failed to realize that the Renaissance was a result of increased trade with the middle east.
Before this class, it didn’t dawn on me that I could major in history; I had always expected to major in business. He sparked a passion in me that changed the course of my life and resulted in my becoming a teacher. I hoped to become a Haas devotee, a person who would take the results of Mr. Haas and teach just like him.
What I failed to recognize, however, was that I simply could not be Mr. Haas. Just like a 6 foot point guard can’t play like Shaquille O’Neal, I couldn’t make that rage and intensity show up every day. As an INTP, I don’t have the reserves of social energy that others possess. Mr. Haas also enraged or was inspired by the same ideas year after year, a feat that I simply cannot replicate. It took me over twelve years of teaching to fully come to terms with this reality.
Ultimately, it was with educational technology, something that Mr. Haas likely eschews, that helped me find my voice and the potential to kindle passion and excitement in students. I have learned to show enthusiasm in short bursts and then send students in their own directions. I can never be Mr. Haas, but I can make sure that I find ways to give them that same passion I felt in his class.
In the end, we all have to follow Shakespeare’s advice: “To thine own self be true.”