We’ve all met unforgettable people in our lives. Some were great in their fields. Some were just people we loved or who had a certain something that drew us to them. This is about one of the unforgettable people in my life.
To a lot of the kids, she was a laughingstock. In her sixties by the time I met her, she was a spinster who still lived with her mother, who brought her to school every day.
Kathryn Garrett was one of the finest teachers I ever had the pleasure of taking a course from. Eccentric, yes. Maybe even strange. But she was a great teacher.
By coincidence, she taught American history, as did Chester Tucker, my subject for last week. Like him also, she was much more interested in teaching her students to think than in drilling dates into our heads.
Entering my senior year in high school, I’d pretty much loafed my way along thus far. I can’t say she suddenly made me into a grinding student, but she did manage to capture my attention.
Miss Garrett would always lead us into a discussion of the significance of a historical event. She wanted us to know how that event affected other events and possibly the course of history itself. I got into that way more than I ever could have gotten into discussions of dates and places.
Did I mention that she was eccentric? When she discussed the development of the West, she would always mention the wild horses, galloping around the classroom to demonstrate. If something upset her, she might pull down a map and hide behind it. Yes, she had her peculiarities, but to me they only endeared her all the more.
She was also very fair-minded. One day in class, as she discussed the industrial revolution and some of the men who obtained great wealth from it, she called J. P. Morgan a robber baron.
It happened I was very interested in Morgan and had read several biographies of the man as well as other reports of his activities. Among other things, I was aware that he had almost single-handedly staved off a major catastrophe during the Panic of 1893 by personally supplying the U.S. Treasury with $6.5 million in gold to keep it afloat. He also managed to break the power of Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, as fine a pair of scoundrels as ever came into our national limelight.
When Miss Garrett made her statement about Morgan, I raised my hand and pointed out these things to her, suggesting that she retract her statement. That evening she did some digging on the subject, and the next day she apologized to me and the class for her error.
She was a very proper person from the old school. Any error she made, she wanted to correct immediately. One of my treasured memories of her is a note she wrote in my senior annual in which she wrote “crisises” instead of “crises.” Immediately realizing what she’d done, she asked me to give it back to her so she could correct it, but I told her I wanted to keep it that way as a memory of her.
Strange, eccentric—I can’t deny she was, but she was a fantastic teacher who made a lasting impression on me.
Ø Who are some of your unforgettable teachers?
Ø How have they affected your life?
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