Everyone deserves to have at least one transformative teacher influence his or her life. Some of us are fortunate to have several. I am blessed to be in that latter category, which is most certainly why I find myself devoted to a lifetime of education.
During this Teacher Appreciation Week, my mind and my heart go to that one teacher who had the greatest impact on me. Thank you, Mr. Wise, for inspiring me, guiding me and believing in me… Even to this day.
I was in Mr. Wise’s 20th Century World History class in 10th grade at Gloucester High School. I remember it like it was yesterday, and I see Mr. Wise as if he was standing before me today. Wearing his signature Irish fisherman’s knit sweater, his brown corduroys and his famous squeaky hiking boots (my friends and I actually gifted Mr. Wise with a new pair of boots upon our graduation), Mr. Wise brought history to life through his measured manner, deliberate delivery and careful cadence. It was from Mr. Wise that I learned early on that “story” was the most powerful form of communication - his story, her story, my story. Mr. Wise made moments become memories for those who did not even live through them.
Mr. Wise was a graduate of Harvard College, served overseas in the Army, and was a self-proclaimed pacifist. He drove a maroon Volvo station wagon and legend had it that he walked to GHS from the neighboring town of Rockport (roughly 10 miles) and back home again every day. Mr. Wise brought 20th Century World History to life through his own life and times. We learned about 20th century Europe through his experiences serving in Germany, where he was nominated by his battalion to befriend the locals given his proclivity for languages, especially German. In turn, he would often return to the barracks with jars of jam for his brothers-in-arms, a notable treat amidst the day-to-day of Army food.
Mr. Wise would hold the classroom globe and dance around the floor of room 200 something and remind us through song that we’ve “got the whole world, in our hands, you’ve got the whole wide world, in your hands.” Mr. Wise’s subtle and witty humor was an acquired taste that I could not get enough of. His devotion to character development was ahead of his time. I will never forget when he asked us to take out our wallets (as part of what he called a “value clarification” exercise) and pull out the one item that represented our identity best. Amidst the saved concert tickets, Destinos Subs frequent flyer card and fortune cookie fortunes that I had kept, it was a card with my name on it, Alfred F. Dugan III, that I recall picking out, proud to carry my father’s name. While I remember important dates and times from history, as well as conflicts and decisions, I carry with me most the memories of inspired learning, debate and critical thinking that I developed because of Mr. Wise. I loved going to his class.
In my senior year of high school, Mr. Wise offered to tour me around his alma mater as part of my college search. I will forever hold dear my time with him, driving to Cambridge in his maroon Volvo, parking in Harvard Yard, walking around his dorm hall and the campus, enjoying lunch and hanging on his every word as he shared stories of his youth, his experiences, his friends and his life.
While I ended up choosing a different alma mater, Mr. Wise continued to support me every step of the way. While at Williams, I would bump into Mr. and Mrs. Wise when I would return home to Gloucester in the summer. When I chose my path to become an educator at Delbarton School, Mr. Wise sent me a note to congratulate me and to inspire me in my work. Joanna and I invited Mr. and Mr. Wise to our wedding, and once I sent Mr. Wise a novel that I had just finished, “to a storyteller, about a storyteller”. It had been a while since I had heard from Mr. Wise, and just a few weeks ago, I received a handwritten note from him letting me know how proud he was of me for being the Headmaster of Princeton Academy. The tears that came to my eyes while reading his letter were from the wellspring of gratitude that I have for his influence in my life and in his forever belief in me as a person. It is because of Mr. Wise that I tell my own students that our journey together lasts far beyond the walls of a classroom, past graduation, and in fact, will last all throughout our days on earth. He is here for me and thus I am here for them.
Thank you, Mr. Wise. I am forever grateful.
- Friday Thank Yous
- teacher appreciation