There are a few of us who will people someone that has a profound effect on our lives. Sadly, we usually do not realize the impact until that person is gone from our lives. Such was the case of a teacher who changed the course of my life, unbeknownst to me, at the time.
This article is dedicated to the memory of a teacher who changed the course of my life. I only hope he realized the impact he had on so many others like me.
Chip on my shoulder
In elementary school, I was a little fish in a little pond – as the saying goes. By the time I reached fifth grade, I felt I had an understanding of where I fit in and who my friend group was. Little did I know that was about to change.
My first year in middle school proved how little I knew about things. I didn’t focus on school due to being nervous about being in a school that was split between middle and high schoolers. My grades were horrible and I hated school. I was hanging out with other kids that didnt care about school, grades, or much of anything. I walked around angry at anyone that appeared to be in authority. I had a chip on my shoulder the size of Texas.
That all changed the day I walked into Mr. Mac Milton’s classroom.
(Cue Harry Potter walking into Professor Quirrell’s classroom)
The room was filled with ten granite top tables divided into two rows. The back of the room was a hodge podge of closets, drawers, and sinks. The front was a large old black board, more cabinets, a desk, and an over 6’ tall broad shouldered, muscular mountain of a teacher. As a young kid I was a combination of awe struck and scared, at the same time.
Making science fun
I had a lot of good science teachers in my life and a very few great ones. Mr. Milton was a great one. He truly tried to make learning science fun. For him, teaching science was like going to a magic show. From lighting chemicals on fire to showing what happens when you place sodium and potassium into water, in his class science truly was an observation into magic.
I struggled in his class, in the beginning. I didn’t want to enjoy what I was learning. I didn’t want to appear smart to the “friends” I had. Mr. Milton, however, was as patient as a mountain. He just kept reaching out and trying to break through. I really have to give him credit for that. So many other teachers simply saw my attitude and lack of desire and left me to my own devices.
I vividly remember the class project that changed all of that.
Mr. Milton also talked about science fiction and one day in class he shared with us a magazine challenge to create a world and all of its inhabitants. The catch to it was we have to be detailed about the type of world we were creating. We had to explain how it was different and how it was created. What the animals and plants were like and how they interacted with the world. Instantly, I was hooked. I took a spiral bound notebook and got to work. I drew pictures of the world and scribbled notes about the makeup of the atmosphere, water to land masses, and the history of its creation. From there, I started penciling in information about plants and animals. All compete with drawings, from skeletal systems, neurological, circulatory, and muscular systems. I was excited by this project and in a week I had the notebook filled with my planet.
Mr. Milton saw my progress and I shared with him what I was doing. It came time to complete the project and the side of me that didnt want my friends to know I was excited for this project kicked in. I failed to turn in the project. Mr. Milton stopped me after class to ask what happened, I tried to fumble some excuse he wasn’t buying and called me out for pretending to fit in. He also asked me to turn in the notebook I had been working on. He gave me a C for my efforts and told me that at some point I would have to choose between pretending to be what I wasnt and owning up to who I actually was. It would take me until my senior year in high school and one more patient science teacher for that lesson to kick in.
No child left behind
Mr. Milton fully believed that every kid that came through his door had potential to be the absolute best version of themselves. This was a teacher who did everything in his power to meet his students halfway to ensure they could get the knowledge they needed to pass his class and prepare for the future. He fully understood that not every kid could be great at every subject in school. Some would need guidance than others and he never failed to help out.
There were other kids in my class who struggled with science. It was frustrating for them as much as it was for me to see someone struggle for things that came easy for me. The only difference was I pretended to have a hard time with it all. Mr Milton appreciated their struggles and sought ways to help out.
If you were putting in the effort but still not making the grade he found ways to help the students out. One particular event that comes to mind was someone who was close to failing the class. He created a makeup final for them that asked them to explain the Night Before Christmas using science. Essentially, it was an easy essay that allowed you to take any knowledge he taught and try to apply it to something to explain it with the Scientific Method. The beauty of this is that it puts the student more at ease than a traditional science exam would do. It allowed them to be creative and understand the very lessons they learned all year. This “trick” saved so many students and created a deep level of trust with him, as a teacher.
How the story ends
After I graduated high school and left my small town, I lost touch with Mr. Milton. It wasn’t until recently that I learned he had developed Alzhimer’s. I saw pictures of him and he looked half of the man I remembered from high school. The muscular gentle bear of a man I once knew still had that loving gleam in his eyes but seemed more of a larger hill than a mountain he had once been.
It was at the same time I learned that he had passed away. When I read this, from his daughter on Facebook, I had to walk away from my desk. There are few people I have met that, for whatever reason, would outlive all of us. Mr. Milton was one of them. The amount of people he helped, I figured there was some plan for him. Never would I have imagined this man who exercised daily and helped so many would have to go through the horrors of Alzhimer’s. I watched this man, as a kid, in the school’s weight room leg press over 500 lbs. I felt awe and respect for who he was and what he did for me. He put me on a path to become a better student and person, even before I knew I was on that path.
Mr. Mac Milton, you will be missed and the world is a little more dim without your light in it.