“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ― William Arthur Ward
A few blog posts ago, I talked about a really bad math experience that left me with a fear of math that continues to this day. The one exception was geometry. Now, I know, that talking about algebra and geometry is like talking apples and oranges, but considering my fear of math in general, it was a miracle I didn’t do as poorly in geometry as I had the previous two years with algebra. The difference was the teacher, Mr. McFeeley.
Mr. McFeeley was a force of nature. He didn’t just tell us what a perimeter was, he ran around the room to show us. He once jumped on a desk when he was excited about something – and he was excited a lot! He loved math and teaching and it was impossible not to be caught up in his enthusiasm. His classes were pure theater. In fact, there was a rumor that he wealthy and had retired from the stage to teach. I know it wasn’t true, but I believed it then because his love of teaching was so great that you couldn’t imagine him doing it just for the job.
He wasn’t a young man when I had him as a teacher, yet you would have thought that he was new to the profession, because it was impossible to believe someone could exhibit that much enthusiasm after years of teaching. Yet, he had taught for many years in New York prior to coming to our small Maine town and taught each class like it was his first.
He cheered for us when we got something he was trying to teach us and encouraged us when we did not. It was never dull in his class and it was never scary. Mr. McFeeley understood the zones of learning before they were even a thing. His teaching was intuitive and passionate. We should all be lucky enough to have this kind of a teacher in our lifetime. We should also aspire to be a Mr. McFeeley when we step into a room or online to teach. I know he retired before online teaching was even thought of but I also know, without a doubt, that he would have jumped in and used all his passion and love of teaching to create an online class with as much excitement and fun as he did in his face-to-face classroom.
This morning, while checking my Facebook page, I saw a message from a classmate about his passing a few days ago. Although I knew from a previous post he was not doing well, it came as a shock. This larger than life force of nature seemed eternal to me as I’m sure he did to others. I looked at his online guest book and every post was from a former student talking about how he changed their life and gave them the gift of math. I can only hope to reach one student the way Mr. McFeeley was able to reach so many.
So, here’s to you Mr. McFeeley, lover of math and teaching and promoter of the joy of learning and an inspiration to all who were lucky enough to be in your classroom. May we all learn from your example and be a better teacher because of it. God Speed.