"We all have one great teacher—sometimes more than one—who made a critical difference, but one can be just enough." - Sam L Grogg

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We all remember our favorite teachers, right?

I am still amazed at how easily my kindergarten teacher, Miss Meyers, could draw a detailed landscape with our oversized crayons. My attempts to imitate were just embarrassing. Mrs. Fowler, second grade, wore all kinds of jangly jewelry, so she could never sneak up on us, yet she knew our indiscretions before we made them. And the third grade teacher, Mrs. McCabe, took no mercy on those who couldn’t recite the multiplication tables—never have I forgotten.

They all had their styles and each found a way to move us along in those basics of writing, reading and arithmetic. Moving to the upper grades and shifting between classrooms and teachers on an hourly basis—my memory begins to get much more selective. And in the college years, there are fewer standouts. But we all have one great teacher—sometimes more than one—who made a critical difference, but one can be just enough.

World literature was the course—a general education elective I had to finish up to graduate. It was taught by a new assistant professor who found out that I had this thing for movies. Movies had been my parallel education system since I could sit still on my grandma’s lap at the local movie theatre. The stories were the insights into the values, beliefs, nightmares and dreams that we all shared through and out of the Cold War, into the crazy ’60s and ’70s and beyond.

So when it came to reading Don Quixote, this teacher called me out in class with a simple request: “Mr. Grogg, maybe you could make a little movie about Cervantes’ story.” Not so simple—we didn’t have video-taking mobile phones or camcorders. We were talking 8mm home-movie gear, real film, and editing with a razor blade. But I jumped at it. The result was a 10-minute, very abbreviated telling of a contemporary Don Quixote who refused to give up his dreams. There was a screening, applause and a grade, and the film went into a box as I moved out of the dorm the following week.

Twenty years later I had made a motion picture, The Trip to Bountiful, that was nominated for two Academy Awards, garnering a Best Actress win for Geraldine Page. That taste of making a movie led to a never-guessed-at career in motion pictures. That teacher—Gary Luckert was his name—sparked something that I never had a clue was in me or in my future.

In this issue of The Catalyst, we celebrate excellence in teaching within the College of Arts and Sciences.This past fall I challenged all of us in the College to redouble our efforts to ensure continuing excellence in the classroom and in all the connections between faculty and students that create the learning experience. Many of the results of these efforts are chronicled in the pages that follow.

There really is nothing but opportunity in the teacher-student relationship. And there is, likewise, real danger. A great teacher can inspire a student to never-expected heights. A poor teacher can push a student out of the game and leave an indelible mark that can have lifelong consequences.

Our faculty members are reaching out each and every day. And students are connecting with them to amazing results. New research is being generated through collaborations between faculty and students.Interpretations of music, insights into poetry, explorations of historical documents and all manner of study and investigation are propelled by this faculty-student engagement. This issue of The Catalyst chronicles one example after another of teaching excellence and, more important, inspired learning.

Sam L Grogg

This article appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of The Catalyst, the College of Arts and Sciences newsletter.

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