Last night I wrote an e-mail to Dr. Ellis Sandoz, who had been head of the Political Science Department at East Texas State University in Commerce when I attended there. He changed my life by introducing me to some of the classics of literature. As I wrote in the letter:
“You surprised me when I took the Intro to Political Science class. I thought it would be about American politics, but you took us instead to the classics and that is why I have been thankful for your impact on my life.
“I did not grow up in a rigorous educational environment. I had been an average student with average work habits, and my reading habits were even worse. My parents wanted me to go to college so I could get a better job someday, the kind of job that my dad could never get because of his lack of a degree.
“When I entered your Intro class I had never read any of the classics, not even the English ones. I thought the ancient writers would be out of my league. Then, because of you, I read Aristotle’s Ethics. It was like an epiphany. I actually could understand what he was saying and loving it. I found myself wanting to underline every sentence, because each one seemed to contain so much insight. Not only did I fall in love with the classics, but I realized I could pursue learning that I had previously thought was beyond my mental reach. In short, I realized I was bright enough to stay with the smart people.”
Here’s one other paragraph from the rather long e-mail:
“And there was one other way that you influenced me. When I was in college I did not attend church regularly, but one Sunday I attended First Baptist Church in Commerce and you were there. I don’t know anything about your religious beliefs then or now, but your presence at church said a great deal to me. It said that if a man with a mind and an education like Dr. Sandoz can have a place for God in his life, then I, too, can have a healthy life of both the mind and the spirit. That dual approach to seeking to understand reality has served me well. It has made me a bit of an oddity at times in either intellectual or religious circles, but it has been a wonderfully fulfilling way to approach life.”
I never had a close relationship with Dr. Sandoz, but it’s amazing the impact that a teacher can have on the lives of his or her students. Maybe this post will inspire someone else to say “thank you” to a teacher.