More Teaching Moments Selected Memories of PSU Faculty

A Lifelong Lesson

October 10th, 2012 by Heather

Kathleen Norris Educational Leadership, Learning and Curriculum

Kathleen Norris

Kathleen Norris

The students arrived for their early evening composition class with me, most of them in their first year of college. We met twice a week in the old, cozy Frost House classroom. All twenty desks were arranged in a tight circle. The fading winter sunlight found its way through the windows. The mood was particularly somber on this particular evening. It was learned that one of our members would not be returning to class.

He and three friends from the class had gone home for a weekend visit. While his friends were doing other things, he had taken off on a three-wheeler into the snowy woods, lost control, and smashed into a tree. His high school coach had come upon the scene and was the one to relay the news to his family and friends. The young man was in the hospital, alive, but with a broken neck and paralyzed.

On learning of this his classmates (my students) began working on a project. They created a portfolio of long letters, all handwritten, filled with memories, good wishes, sorrow, and humor. We sent the package home, and his mother replied with heartfelt thanks, along with a photo of him smiling into the lens of the camera. He was smiling as we all remembered him, but now from a hospital bed. His broad smile seemed to be trying to reassure us that he was okay, that he was going to be fine, though it was hard for us to imagine the challenges he would face.

My students were changed through the experience of loss, but also through the acts of compassion they took. They were surprised that their writing had meant so much to his mother, even though most of them did not know his family at all. They commented on the power of writing to express all sorts of feelings.

I believe they learned more about the importance of writing from that experience than from the other assignments completed for class. As they moved on in their coursework, I am sure they did not forget how important writing could be. After this experience, perhaps they began to understand how important they individually were.

And still are.

Changing People’s Lives

October 3rd, 2012 by Heather

Michael L. Fischler Education Leadership, Learning and Curriculum

Prof. Michael L. Fischler

Prof. Michael L. Fischler

While cleaning out a box of papers that had set undisturbed in my garage for 38 years, I stumbled across the following letter:

April 29, 1966

Dear Mr. Fischler:

I want to thank you for the kindness and attention given to my son Gary in regard to his music lessons.

I noticed a great change of interest in music occur about the time you became his teacher. I am sure your zeal and love for music was directly transferred to him as a result of your teaching abilities. I thank you for what it has done.

He has been a lead guitarist in a group and it seems the boys consider Gary a “good” guitarist. This is a direct compliment to your teachings.

Coral Gables, Florida

I was a sophomore at the University of Miami. I had low grades and little career direction (other than being advised by my accounting professor to get out of my major, “Business,” which I did). While I have no memory of Cecelia or Gary, I must have found her message encouraging. At 20 years of age I had no clue that I might have a skill that anyone would value. I was a mediocre guitar player at best, and I knew less about “teaching” than guitar. What I did know was that I loved every moment I spent with my students (so much so that I would often keep them longer than the prescribed 30 minutes, a habit my PSU students will attest hasn’t changed).

Fast forward some 46 years, to May 5, 2012, and the e-mail below:

Hello Dr. Fischler:

How is this semester going? I miss you! Somebody asked what I thought was the best class I have taken at Plymouth, and I answered Cultural Diversity. As I graduate in a couple more weeks, I thought back to the years I have been in school and your class has had the largest impact on my life. I looked forward to every class. As I get ready to exit Plymouth I figured I would drop you a line to say keep doing what you are doing. You actually change people’s lives. I am living proof. I look at people and cultures so differently now. I have an appreciation for the world and want to get out and experience it. Just 9 months ago I honestly could have cared less. I find it all so fascinating. It’s like a light bulb went off in my head. Thank you for helping turn a blissfully closed-minded, ignorant man around. Thank you for making such a positive impact in my life.


The possibility of my ever “changing people’s lives” was far too implausible to have been considered in 1966!

It took time and the act of teaching—from those first guitar tutorials to students in middle and elementary school, to finally at the university—that that implausible idea became reality.

So to Cecelia, Gary and Shaun, and to all those who came in between, and who may come tomorrow, Thank You! “Thanks” for putting up with me, for allowing me to work with you, for allowing me to engage in what has truly been a sacred calling: Teaching. It’s a calling that can positively “change people’s lives—both yours and mine.” Encore! Merci!