Opinion: A Life Lesson From a Teacher

By Carla Charter

I willing admit I have been a writer and historian from the beginning of my life. Math and Science, I somehow knew instinctively as a child, were never going to be a large part of my career path.

So logically in school I devoured writing and English classes. Math and science, I learned only what I needed to squeak through to the next year.  Then I found myself sitting in a High School Biology 1 class that changed the way I saw the world.

I think early on the teacher and I knew this class was going to be a challenge for both of us. Despite my best efforts and decided lack of interest, by the end of that semester I found myself at the bottom of the barely passing list, in fact I was dangling dangerously close to the failed list.

That’s when the teacher, whose name I can no longer recall, decided to give me a chance by thinking outside the box. Apparently, he must have seen something in me that I had yet to discover.  Spoiler here it was definitely not a science or math career.

The teacher handed me a novel, a copy of which still sits on a special place for beloved books on my book shelf.  He told me if I read the book and did a book report, he would allow me to use that to bring my grade up.   A novel and a subsequent book report. I saw a light at the end of my biology class struggles. Reading and writing, now that was definitely in my wheelhouse.

The book I was to read was called Joshua Son of None by Nancy Freedman. It tells of a fictional presidential assassination in 1963. Yes, the similarities to the Kennedy assassination are unmistakable in this book.  However, in this fictional book, before the president dies, several of his cells are taken by scientists who then clone another human from them.  The question was then would this cloned person become a carbon copy of the person he was cloned from?

Long story short I devoured the book, finished the book report and barely squeaked through the class with a D. That should have been the end of the story. Except it wasn’t.

That unnamed science teacher has affected me to this day. By handing me that book, he taught me a lesson that had nothing to do with biology or cloning or science at all. He taught me that just like you do not need to be an artist to appreciate art, you do not have to be a scientist to appreciate what science is doing.  His lesson was very simple. Stay curious about the world around you. Curiosity can take you to places you would never expect to be.

This simple lesson has led me to a love of Michael Crichton books, and I have found myself reading books about attempts to clone Wooly mammoths and the history of Sealab. Yes, I read History magazine and articles on writers.  Thanks to this one teacher though, I also read National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazine.  As a journalist I have covered articles about new inventions, the science of archeological digs and concerns about Zebra mussels at the Quabbin Reservoir.

So, this is an essay to all the unnamed teachers out there who think creatively and find a way to allow every child to succeed in their class. You may never get to see all of the ripples you send out into the world but they are there affecting the world in ways you may never know.