John Grindrod: The final rewards of a teaching career

First Posted: 5/30/2014

I have a lot of memories of my time spent as a high-school English teacher at Perry, Allen East and St. Marys Memorial. And, while I’ve pretty much, after nearly a decade out from my last classroom, gotten most of the teacher out of me and spend my days involved in new pursuits and rarely dwell on those memories, they still are there just below the surface and ready to emerge when some stimulus prompts them.

That very thing happened when my lady Jane gave me a copy of her community’s paper, The Evening Leader, which, as the masthead says, has been serving the Grand Lake area since 1848. The front page showed a headline just above the fold that read, “St. Marys graduate sets sights on ousting Boehner.” The reason Jane gave me the paper was because that particular St. Marys graduate happened to be one of my favorite formers, Tom Poetter.

To be honest, as is the case with so many of my former charges, I’d lost track of Tom. The article primarily focused on a speech Tom gave at the Mercer County Democratic Ox Roast at the Celina Eagles, the content of which revolved around the thesis idea that it’s time for House Speaker John Boehner to move on down the road. And, according to Tom, he, not his opponent in the May primary in District 8, Matt Guyette, was just the one to give Boehner the push.

As for the outcome in the primary, Tom did beat Guyette by gaining almost 55 percent of the votes and will face off against Boehner in November. However, Tom’s political leanings are of far less importance to me as what he’s doing now that I’ve rediscovered him and also recalling what he was to me as a 17-year-old back in 1980.

As for the now, the article revealed that he is a professor at my college alma mater, Miami University. Dr. Poetter carries the title of director of graduate studies and professor of educational leadership. Tom also has been published, as all professors must be, as a matter of fact published a lot, as in dozens of articles and chapters in professional and educational magazines and books as well as authoring a dozen of his own books focusing on teaching methods and philosophies.

While the picture that accompanied that Evening Leader article showed that of a 51-year-old man about to take his first crack at politics while in the midst of an eminently successful career in higher education, I remembered the congenial and extremely industrious student in my college-prep Junior English class, second row, fourth seat from the front.

Not only do I remember how Tom embraced joyfully his schoolwork but I also remember him as a very good point guard for the Roughriders who avoided turnovers as if they were poison ivy and slipped countless pocket passes to Damon Goodwin, who scored enough buckets to draw the attention of University of Dayton Flyer head basketball coach Don Donoher and eventually become one of the better players in the history of UD before becoming a very successful college basketball coach at Capital University in Columbus. More than 30 years later, that point guard who slipped Goodwin the ball over and over still holds the St. Marys Memorial career record for assists.

I also remember a moment frozen in time. It was during one of my sustained- silent-reading sessions. While reading James Thurber’s autobiography “My Life and Hard Times,” Tom failed at his attempts to suppress laughter, so tickled was he by something Thurber was telling him. The failed attempts eventually led to his getting out of his seat and rushing out in the hall, where I heard him erupt in laughter.

I would certainly be practicing revisionist history if I told you that everything I assigned brought all my students that much joy. When Tom regained his composure and came back in and tried to apologize, I raised my hand and stopped him in mid-“I’m sorry, Mr. G” mode. I told him never to apologize for discovering the unbridled joy that memorable literature can bring. And, that’s why I knew that day in early spring some 35 years ago was one I would remember for the rest of my life.

Actually Dr. Poetter is one of two professors at my university in Southeast Ohio who once sat before me. The other that I have thus far managed to keep track of is Dr. Charlie Moul, once upon a time one of my favs and the only student I ever had who appeared as a contestant on “Jeopardy,” and is now professor of economics in the Farmer School of Business.

And, I will tell you the afterglow of the knowledge that both Tom and Charlie are at Miami, and I was able to give them some help along the way before they attained such positions burns so very brightly for me. Really, when I hear of the successes of those I once taught, many of whom I can still place in the right row and seat in my mind’s seating chart, that’s my bonus pay long after I drew my last active check from St. Marys City Schools.

There are so many other of my former students like Dr. Gabe Reiger, professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, whose specialty, Shakespeare, was certainly not mine and who led the league in politeness even at 17; Betsy Kuhn, now a lawyer in Tampa years after she dotted every i and crossed every t for me; Sara Berelsman, whose first book, “My Last Rock Bottom,” made it to print a full quarter of a century faster than I managed to see my first book published and who was the best student writer from a technical aspect I ever had; Auglaize County Commissioner Doug Spencer, who endured me with a smile on his face for both his sophomore and junior year; and St. Marys CPA Kurt Meier, who spoke less and worked more as most teens I had; and a trio of successful dentists like Dan Wilker, Leslie O’Dowd and Tony Hirschfeld. And, of course, the list goes on.

To all whom I taught, you have absolutely no idea how much it means to me when I hear of your successes and I have little doubt, the same can be said for each and every one of your former teachers who knew you when you had braces and some pimples and some teenage insecurities.

You have done yourself so proud and made all of us so proud and so very thankful that, once upon a time, we decided we wanted to teach. Thank you.