On the first day of fifth grade, Mr. Jay Cutler introduced himself as our English teacher for the rest of the school year.
He then promised us that he would walk across the classroom on his hands whenever the entire class completed their homework.
“You may think I’m lying, but I’m not,” he told us. He then added with a wink, “The only question is…do I really know how to walk on my hands, or will I waste an entire class trying to walk across the classroom on my hands?”
(He really did know how to walk on his hands. Unfortunately, our class only witnessed the event twice during the school year. 🙁 )
Mr. Cutler was young — probably in his late twenties at the time — and hip. He was also cool. His hair was unkempt, his goatee reminiscent of Ed Norton, and while he always always wore a tie, he kept the top button of his shirt undone and his tie knot precariously hanging just beneath.
Many of my classmates, myself included, had schoolgirl crushes on him. But we kept ourselves at a safe distance, intimidated by the picture of his gorgeous wife that was prominently displayed on his desk. (And none of us could picture him with anyone but a beautiful, intelligent, and charming woman.)
It was not only his demeanor and looks that made Mr. Cutler a favorite among students. He was a jokester and prankster, but knew when to take things seriously. He made THE best analogies and examples — often humorous ones — that helped even the dullest of us understand (then) mind-boggling concepts such as irony, metaphors, and conflicts.
He even created an alter ego based on his favorite fruit, the grape, and used him quite often in all his examples. Once, when a classmate brought in the then-popular board game The Grape Escape, he (pretend) angrily told us that he would write a complaint letter to Parker Brothers for cruelty to grapes. (And the following week, as he gave a lesson on how to properly write a business letter, he used that letter as an example. )
I still often wonder what had become of Mr. Cutler. Did he continue teaching elementary-level English? Did he win any teaching awards? Does he know how much of a positive impact he had on the hundreds of students who were lucky enough to have him as a teacher?
I have tried a few times to look him up, but his common name makes this a difficult task.
What I do know is that while I have trouble recalling the names of the majority of my high school teachers — heck, I can hardly remember my college professors either — and many of my lessons with them remain foggy, I still remember minute details about my favorite teacher and his teachings, almost twenty years later.
Good teachers provide knowledge that stays with us for the rest of our lives. Great teachers inspire us to learn, and to cultivate what we have learned. And Mr. Cutler was exactly that: a great teacher.
Do you have a favorite teacher who has made a memorable impact on your life? Someone whom you still look back on with fond memories and often wonder what has become of him/her?
You really got me with the title of this post! Jay Cutler is also the name of the loved/hated quarterback for the Chicago Bears.
On another note – I was homeschooled. I loved my mom and but it didn’t make for many ‘amazing teacher’ moments.
Haha, I know! It’s become about 10x harder to try to do a websearch on my old English teacher ever since Jay Cutler started playing football at Vanderbilt.
Lovely post! One of my favorite teachers was Ms. Skelley, my G&T teacher in 4th grade. She encouraged us to think outside the box and didn’t laugh at our ideas, however “weird” or “crazy” they were. It’s because of her that I try to think of creative solutions to problems even to this day.
Mrs. Cain, Mr. Griffin and Mr. Lamb. All inspirational and all amazing, interesting, vibrant teachers. I am still in touch with Mr. Griffin, but often wonder what has happened to the others. Good post!
Thank you for this. I think a lot of times- especially now- people have forgotten what an impact a teacher can have on a student. Most parents now just think of teachers as babysitters and scapegoats when something goes wrong with the child, or they aren’t behaving well.
I have in school right now to become an elementary teacher (or English… haven’t decided) And I am in NJ, where a lot of hoopla has been going on with the government and education. My Boyfriend is also a teacher and was laid off due to massive budget cuts and forced to move to the other side of the state.
It’s refreshing to read something so enlightening about teachers, and how someone actually got something out of one of them:)
I have the utmost respect for public school teachers, esp in this economy where public school funding is being cut left and right! I wish the best for you in your future career. 🙂
Great post! Being a teacher is a sometimes thankless job… it’s rewarding but you rarely see the long term effects as kids grow up and move away.
On related note… and at the risk of sounding like a stalker… A suggestion on finding your teaching… I live in British Columbia, Canada and all teachers have to be certified to teach. The BC College of Teachers has a registry of all teachers with a limited amount of information available to the public. So you can put in a teacher’s name and find out if they still actively teach. Perhaps the governing body for teachers in your state has a similar registry? If they do and you find he is still active, you can go back to the school district you were in when you were in grade 5 and drop off a note to be forwarded to the teacher. If he still works for the same district, they will know exactly where to send the note (that is if he still works for the district – here in BC the benefits of seniority keep teachers tied to the same district for most of their careers). Good luck!
Umm, most importantly, thank you for the Grape Escape flash back! : ) It’s possible I could have gone the rest of my life without having thought about Grape Escape again! And, I totally owe the world to my 11th grade English teacher, who taught me everything I know about writing. Learned more from her crap public school class than I ever did at my stupid expensive private college!
Same here — all my favorite teachers were from my public schooling, and I don’t think I really ever connected with any of the professors/instructors/TAs at my expensive private college!
I definitely have a teacher who stands out. She was the 12th grade English teacher everyone said was “so tough, you don’t want to get her.” All my upper classmen friends had cultivated this fear for years, so when I saw that she was my English teacher I was scared out of my mind. Sure, she was tough, but I learned more in that class than in any other in my life.
How timely this post was for me! I’m currently in the process of applying to graduate school to get my teaching certificate, and there’s a a huge scandal going on in our public school system right now. Teachers are getting cut left and right, and the ones that are still there will have more classroom experience than I will once I get finished with the program (provided I’m accepted – fingers crossed). I have a bunch of friends who are teachers, and damn fine ones, really. I see firsthand all the work they’re putting into their students, and it makes me swell with pride. I’m so glad to read that teachers as a whole are still having an impact. It makes me realize that it’s what I’m meant to do.
Also, to answer your question – my 11th grade literature teacher, Ms. Nicholson, because she introduced me to Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement, and one particular professor who I enjoyed so much that I took 4 classes from her. 🙂
I love this post! Mr. Cutler sounds just wonderful. I had many teachers that were also wonderful and highly influential (and some downright awful, as luck goes) but my most influential was also an English teacher (albeit in high school.) I remember getting a low B or high C (can’t remember) for the very first time on an essay, with it torn apart. For a second I was offended, and then I read the comments, along with Politics of the English Language by George Orwell, which was assigned, and it changed my writing forever. I learned so much about life, art, literature and writing in that class. I’ve only had one or two other teachers that even neared that caliber. It’s funny how some people influence you so much, but they probably never realize it!
My absolute favorite teacher was Mrs. Wolbert. I had her for choir & all of the various plays/musicals/singing groups. She was so much fun & had such a vibrant personality. When I was a senior, the top people in our class were asked to choose a teacher from the past 12 years who influenced them the most – it wasn’t hard for me to choose Wolby! Sadly, she died a few years ago after a tragic battle with cancer. I made the trip home for the memorial service and was amazed (but not surprised) by the hundreds of former students that were in attendance. I still think of her often. 🙂
What a sweet post! I love reading all of the comments. Great teachers are priceless!