By Avi Burstein
When I was 16, I transferred to a new high school. Due to the low expectations at my previous schools, I had adopted a very apathetic view of school. I didn’t care much for any of my studies, regardless of the subject. Most of the time, I put in as little effort as necessary and nothing more.
In all my classroom years, no one seemed to care much that I had this attitude, and I was never challenged to change it. So, in my new school, when I entered Mr. Dillon’s algebra class, I knew exactly what I planned to do that year. I would put in just enough work to satisfy my parents and teacher, while having as much fun as possible.
Mr. Dillon’s class provided plenty of opportunity for fun. He was the archetypal nerd. He was under five and a half feet tall, with a lanky frame, a proficient chess player, a computer whiz, and a Trekkie. While trying to teach us, he often sprinkled his lessons with humorous examples and unusual pedagogic tricks. He even let us poke fun at his personality as long as it was done with the proper respect.
After a month of my typical classroom effort, I began to notice an unusual feeling in myself: I was enjoying learning math! Mr. Dillon’s gentle encouragement, combined with his unique teaching style, was not only improving my grades dramatically, but also making me enjoy learning! To my great surprise, I ended that year at the top of the class.
I had taken geometry in my previous school, but barely passed. After my first year with Mr. Dillon I decided to take the class again. As before, he transformed me — taking me from nearly failing geometry to receiving a mathematics award at the end of the year. At the end, it was with great pride that I showed him my notebook, full of his lesson plans, homework assignments and classroom notes.
At the time, all I felt was the great pleasure of doing well in my mathematics class. But as I have gotten older I look at my time with Mr. Dillon with deeper appreciation. I gained so much more than just math skills from his class. He taught that it was possible to succeed where I never would have dreamed it possible. He taught me to risk discovering something new in myself that I otherwise wouldn’t have sought. But, most important of all, he was the first person to teach me that it was possible to enjoy learning.
It’s been a while since I needed the math skills Mr. Dillon gave me. But every day that I open my mind to discover something new about myself and the world I live in is a testament to what a dedicated teacher can accomplish.