Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"The Changing of the Guard"

Twilight Zone episodes when not comic or profoundly disturbing were sometimes sentimental in a way that would never be acceptable to modern audiences.  "The Changing of the Guard" is one of those that still brings me to tears.  A poetry teacher at one of those prestige boarding schools where the elite used to (still do?) send their young men, is being retired against his wishes to make room for a younger generation.  He is despondent about his failure to make a difference, and suicidal.  He goes to his classroom one last time, and the ghosts of a half century of his students appear to tell him that what caused their deaths: a Congressional Medal of Honor winner from Iwo Jima, a World War I casualty, a medical researched killed by an X-ray overdose while studying cancer attribute their actions to the lessons they learned in his class, and that he has done a lot of good indirectly.

And that is what any teacher can hope for.  I have a few teachers over the years that made all the difference: Miss Shackleton who made science exciting and fascinating to me; Mr. Friedman, my 9th grade English teacher whose torture of sentence diagramming made me able to write clearly; my 12th grade physics teacher, Merton Burkhard.

A few years back, the mother of one of my American History students invited my wife and I over for dinner.  She told me that she had worried her son would not graduate high school.  Somehow, my class had lit a fire under him.  Last I heard, he was at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.  You never know how many other students had transformational moments unless their ghosts show up in your classroom.

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