Two and a half years ago, I posted a diary about this legendary smackdown of an idiot wingnut reporter (and her cameraman) by Matt Damon, in defense of public school teachers.
In one of my updates, I included the following "Favorite Teacher Stories" from my high school days:
The ongoing discussion in the Matt Damon Teacher Defense diary about the veracity of the actual higher math problems depicted in Good Will Hunting inspired me to add my own Favorite Teacher story:So, that was in August 2011.
Back in 1988, I was a senior in high school, and studying calculus for my A.P. Calc test. This just happened to be the same time that the movie Stand and Deliver, about the real-world math teacher Jaime Escalante, came out.
My calculus teacher, Mr. Koehler, was incredibly excited about doing something almost unheard of for a math teacher: He arranged for a field trip to the local theater to watch the movie, to help inspire us for the AP test.
You can't imagine how geeked he was; I mean, how often are movies made about math teachers? How often does a high school math teacher get to take the class on a field trip?
Anyway, not only did he take us to see the film, but he even offered extra credit for the first student who shouted out the correct answer to any calculus problem depicted in the movie. Fortunately, it was a Wednesday matinee during school hours, so our class was pretty much the only people in the theater.
It was a great film, and Mr. Koehler was a fantastic teacher.
Tragically, Mr. Koehler was paralyzed in a skiing accident in 1997, and died a few years later. His life and legacy was enshrined in the U.S. Congressional Record (PDF) shortly after his accident by (then Republican Senator) Spence Abraham:Mr. ABRAHAM: Mr. President, I rise today to extend my best wishes for a full and rapid recovery by Mr. Terry Koehler, a teacher at Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Involved in a very serious skiing accident in mid-February, Mr. Koehler is currently convalescing in Reno, NV.Thank you, Mr. Koehler, for being a great teacher.
In the meanwhile, the entire Bloomfield Hills community eagerly looks forward to Mr. Koehler’s return. A quick glance at his extensive involvement throughout the school district and it is readily apparent why, at present, he is so sorely missed. In addition to his duties teaching math, Mr. Koehler is a coach with Lahser’s championship winning boy’s and girl’s swim teams. He serves in the multiple roles of commissioner, coach, and player in the school’s intramural basketball program. He runs the school chess club. And, as a major in the U.S. Army Reserves, Mr. Koehler’s civic commitments are hardly limited to just Lahser High School.
Exceptional teachers are assets to any community, as are dedicated public servants. When someone exemplifies the finest qualities of both, their presence is all the more valued. Indeed, Terry Koehler is such an individual. I join his countless friends, colleagues, and students in wishing Terry, his wife Diane and the rest of his family strength and courage during this difficult time; and I look forward to the news of his return to good health, to the profession he so honorably serves and to the students whose lives he touches every day.
Oh, and I got a 4 (out of 5) on the AP Calculus test, which I think gained me like 10 undergrad credit hours (at around $45/credit back then).
Feel free to post your own My Favorite Teacher® stories below.
It's also important to understand that I didn't hear about Mr. Koehler's skiing accident, the huge outpouring of support/fundraiser that the community had for him in the aftermath, or his death until about 4 years later. I was living in the same general area, but was in a very, very dark, ugly time in my life in the late '90's and pretty much closed myself off to any local news or developments around me for several years.So, that was 2 years ago.
When I did find out about his accident and death, I was greatly saddened that I never had a chance to drop him a line to let him know how much I appreciated the great job that he did and how much of a positive influence he had been on my life. For ten years I've been regretting this.
Which brings me to the follow up:
Earlier this evening, during Thanksgiving dinner, my mother mentioned in passing that some building in the school district had been named after a (different) long-term teacher at the high school I attended. In response, I started to tell the story above, about Mr. Koehler taking our whole class to see Stand & Deliver. My brother, who had graduated 6 years earlier than I did and who was sitting next to me, interrupted my story to ask "Wait, you mean this guy?" and showed me his iPhone screen.
He just happened to be playing online Scrabble at that exact moment with...one Terry Koehler, former Calculus teacher at Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills.
To say I was stunned and in disbelief doesn't begin to describe my reaction.
It turns out that Mr. Koehler did not die after all. After his accident, he underwent intense therapy/rehabilitation in Nevada, then moved back home to Southeast Michigan...and, in fact, has been alive and (relatively) well living less than 10 miles from me THIS WHOLE TIME.
Update: Friday morning, my brother Facebook-rec'ced us to each other. An hour later, Mr. Koehler and I were connected on FB, I sent him a message explaining my misunderstanding about his condition, my relief to find out he's still around, and my gratitude for the great job he did as both a teacher and a role model 20-odd years ago.
After 10 years of kicking myself, I've righted this wrong.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Today, as you probably can guess from the title of this diary, I'm saddened to report that I just learned that Mr. Koehler actually has passed away, for real.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Koehler. I'm glad that I got to reacquaint myself with you (however fleetingly) and to at least let you know how much you meant to me.