Some teachers are hard to forget

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(Part one)

If we were to ask 100 people to name a person who had a large influence in their life, I would be willing to guess that a teacher would be among one of the oft-repeated answers.

Who holds us more completely than our teachers? For a given time in a life, a teacher can lay the foundation, or even build the necessary blocks, that can set a child on a path toward the adult he will become.

A teacher who is stellar deserves high praise, but I have to wonder if we ever realize it in time to give voice to our appreciation. There are so many good teachers in my memory, just as I am most certain there are in most.

Hard to miss

One junior high teacher stands out as an incredible man, adored and respected by those who were lucky enough to have known him.

Sam Jacobs seemed 7 feet tall to me. Dressed in shirt and tie, he seemed to command the school in a professorial way. That alone got our attention.

He taught Ohio history and U.S. history to seventh and eighth graders, and no one did it better.

I remember leaving the classroom one day, heading for gym class, and wishing the lecture with Mr. Jacobs did not have to end. His voice was commanding. He described characters in our history without fanfare, but instead in gritty, real terms.

One general, I remember him saying, would have been considered a real jerk. He said something like, “I guarantee if he walked in that door right now, not a single person in here would see him as a leader.” He urged us to keep that in mind as we read tonight’s homework. I couldn’t wait to read it.

The next day, he used this seed to springboard to the fact that we study history to learn how to better ourselves and society.

For one thing, we were told, do not judge a person in the way they look or act at first glance, but in their leadership abilities and accomplishments. Secondly, do not give power to anyone who attempts to lead without commanding and earning respect.

Full of surprises

Mr. Jacobs was a farmer when he wasn’t at school, a fact that stunned me. It was hard to envision this scholarly man pitching manure or planting corn, but it was said to be true by those who knew him as a friend and neighbor.

He often hired boys who just might have otherwise gotten in trouble with too much free time on their hands, and set them on a path of responsibility and self-respect.

It was as a coach that “Jake” shined brightly. Keep in mind, our class numbers at that time might have topped out at 40, and some boys couldn’t participate in basketball because they were needed at home after school.

There were always those golden boys that seemed to assume they would be the star, or at least among the top five starters on the court. That’s not how Coach Jacobs did things. He gave every kid the chance to prove himself, as long as they showed up and worked hard at every practice.

Keen insight

He kept one boy after class, I was told, and inquired why he wasn’t trying basketball. The boy admitted he couldn’t afford gym shoes.

Jake noticed something in this boy. The next day, Jake privately told the boy he had found a pair of shoes in his closet that he’d never worn because they just didn’t fit him quite right.

That boy turned out to be the best player on the team.

He had no experience with team sports, but had lots of muscle from a life of hard knocks, and had great ball-handling skills from playing barn ball. Jake noticed. He brought this boy out of the shadows and in to a welcoming circle of teammates.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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