In looking back over a lifetime of influences, most of my friends and school mates will tell you that those who command respect are the teachers from whom we learned the most. Sam Jacobs was our junior high history teacher, also coaching boys in basketball. He was the kind of man who stood strong and tall in every way; he did not put up with nonsense, and that was a point made clear right from the very start.
My older sisters likely were some of his very first students, though at the time I don’t think any of us realized how young our teacher really was. One day we filed in to an empty room. For about five minutes, paper airplanes flew, jokes were told, silly antics prevailed. After one loud boy yelled, ‘Hey, Jake’s coming!’ and everyone scrambled to their seats, one very unhappy teacher entered the classroom.
In a commanding voice, we were told that no one should be horsing around during his class time. We were to be adult enough by this junior high age to get to our seats and act like we had half a brain, whether he was in the room or not. “And you may call me ‘Coach Jacobs’ or ‘Mr. Jacobs’ but until you are adults, and not immature morons, you may NOT call me ‘Jake.’ Is that clear?”
It was very clear. And in a way that only this teacher could do, we suddenly wanted to be better students, more mature, more sensible. We wanted him to respect us in the same way that we respected him. He was a busy man with a farm to run when he wasn’t at school, but he still agreed to take on extra when asked and often recognized a need that he found a way to meet. He served as class advisor, a coach in various sports, and the teacher overseeing student council. His pretty wife, who taught in another school district, was just as engaged in her work and earned the admiration of her students there. It was under Mr. Jacobs’ leadership that a village goodwill ambassador program was formed.
In early October, students would select a person in the town who needed gutters cleaned or leaves raked, or any number of small projects.
It was run after school on our own hours, but I bet not one of us realized this meant our teacher was giving his time, as well, after just finishing up his own busy season on his farm. He earned our respect, commanded our attention with incredibly interesting lectures, and thrown in to that mix of awe and adoration were more than a few schoolgirl crushes.
Not naming names, but a sister of mine shyly carried one mighty strong crush on this kind and wonderful teacher, her cheeks turning pink when his name was brought up in general conversation. He was a commanding presence, and even his bald head was something we liked about him, and something he often joked about. He was lighthearted and engaging, hard-working, full of zest for life, and his teaching encouraged us to live our lives in a similar way.
Years later, I was sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for my children to be seen by an allergist. A man approached me, saying, “I read everything you write. You’ve made a whole community proud.”
I was stunned to look up to see the teacher I’d revered. “Thank you, Mr. Jacobs, “ I managed to croak. He smiled, patted me on the shoulder and said, “I’d be honored to hear you call me Jake.”
I knew, for sure, then, that I was all grown up and had made something of myself.
Thankfully, I wasn’t a moron in Jake’s book. It meant more than diamonds and gold.
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