Monday, February 16, 2015

The Best Gift We Can Give Is Time

Post by Joe Phillips: Joe is in 3rd year of teaching Industrial Technology, all at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Joe on Twitter @BHSIndTech

When I was in high school (which wasn't really all that long ago) I used to start every morning by walking down to the industrial arts wing and saying hello to my favorite teacher, Mr. Mast. He was 68 at the time (no that isn't a typo) but still looked like he was in his late 50’s. Time was very kind to him.

Mr. Mast had worked in Industry before becoming a teacher. He seemed like he had done every job imaginable, from conducting trains, to security, to building extremely expensive cabinetry for million dollar homes. This gave him a huge knowledge base to pull from. We also shared a passion for classic cars, and Mr. Mast had quite a few of them.

I would soak up all the knowledge I could from him, like how steam locomotives worked, or how steam cars work. There were times that he would stay at school talking with me for hours and looking back now, I am sure that there were other things he needed to do, but he never showed it or got angry or frustrated by me being there.

Mr. Mast had one other unique trait; he was always willing to help. He would pull students cars out of the ditch on the way to school in the morning, or help you if you locked your keys in the car ( I still use the coat hanger and wood block trick… perfected it in college). It is these experiences that stick with me. I was in other clubs and activities that did awesome stuff, but none of that really stuck with me after eight years.

Now that I am a teacher, I see these same trends happening with me and my students. I have some students that meet me at the door as I am walking in at 7:30 and remain by my side until the two minute bell rings. Likewise, I have students that stop in to see me after school and stay until I lock up. It makes me laugh to think that not so many years ago I was that kid.

It may come as no surprise that I don’t get a whole heck of a lot done when this happens, but I am okay with that. The emails will be there later, the papers will still be on my desk to be graded, and the shop floor will still need sweeping tomorrow, but for that moment in time, I have the opportunity to brighten a student’s day, or give them advice from my own personal experiences, or just make their life better in some small yet significant way.

If a students would rather come talk to me because they don’t want to go home due to what is or isn't there waiting for them, or if they look forward to seeing me on Monday morning because they know I will ask them about their weekend then I can’t find a better reason to put life on hold for a little while.

Mr. Mast

One of my administrators once asked me, “What are your students going to remember in 5 or even 10 years?” Well, they probably won’t remember my lessons on Shellac or wood finishes. They may not even remember how a coil or carburetor works in a car, but hopefully they’ll remember the relationship we had. They’ll look back on the time they had a flat tire after school and came to get me, or how we used to talk in the hallway during passing time every day about cars that neither of us would probably ever own.

I know in my personal experiences, I don’t remember all the content that Mr. Mast taught me, but I do remember the way he taught. His lessons weren't like lessons; they were more like having a conversation with someone. It was almost like you were just visiting with him, but he sneaked in some learning in there along the way. He was an amazing teacher to have.

Mr. Mast passed away the summer after I graduated, June of 2006. I called him two weeks before his passing. We talked for maybe 20 minutes. He was out working over the summer placing power poles and operating heavy machinery. I think deep inside he was still a kid, and this was his version of Tonka Toys. I’ll never forget the last thing he ever told me, he said “It’s really good to hear from you.” Those words have echoed with me ever since.

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