Blame it all on my crazy biology teacher

 

With fall in the air, I get this funny feeling that my homework isn't done.

It is true I was one of "those" students who tested patience, strained policies, broke rules and spent quality time on a chair in the hallway. I guess it was a natural aptitude, like yodeling. My parents urged me to reach my full potential, but how could I do that when it took so much effort just to stay out of the principal's office?

Despite my shenanigans, there were a few dedicated teachers who left an indelible mark. One such teaching champion was Mr. Richard -- or so we called him -- who taught biology at University High School in Greeley, Colo.

Mr. Richard was probably crazy. He willingly took a hormone-imbalanced sophomore class to Colorado's North Park, where we camped for a week in an 8,800 foot-high mountain valley. Born and raised there, he knew it cold, lecturing to us about everything from wildlife to native plants, while most of us guys drooled at girls who hadn't bathed in three days. Oh, to be young again.

Besides field trips, Mr. Richard organized school-wide recycling efforts and conducted roadside cleanups. He brainwashed me so well that even in the dead of winter I can't stop myself from getting on a mountain bike for my three-mile commute to work.

Sure, we endured detailed lectures about human development and the lifecycle of minute organisms. Maybe there were not as many reproduction details as a group of adolescent guys wanted, but from a clinical standpoint, we learned all that was necessary. Best of all, there were Petri dishes, wax dissection trays and powerful microscopes -- all sources of great adventure.

But it was the outdoor activities that made biology a blast.  We'd get on a bus and head to what seemed like remote destinations. Once it was a trip to collect water samples downstream of the newly built and highly controversial Fort St. Vrain nuclear power plant, north of Denver. Another time, with nets in hand and making clucking noises, we hunted down elusive "snipes" in the tall grass prairie northeast of Ault, Colo. This was possibly Mr. Richard's idea of revenge.

Mr. Richard cared about that buzzword "sustainability" early. One field trip to the bluffs of eastern Colorado, just past Grover, population 153, on a good day, we found ourselves at an original pioneer homestead. It boasted no indoor plumbing, no electricity, and a second-generation settler who had no recollection of ever needing such contrivances. Mr. Richard's lesson: Today's luxuries aren't really necessities.

These days, strange terms like photosynthesis, protoplasm, osmosis, and zygote pop into my aging and not always responsive brain. I have a vague notion what they mean, would have typed "fotosinthesis" without spell check, and most certainly acknowledge they are essential elements of the biological world. Yet it wasn't memorizing those terms that Mr. Richard saw as important, because he knew that while not all students became biologists, they all became earth-impacting adults.

Mr. Richard tried to pound into us his conviction that all life forms were essential. I still have doubts about killing a spider crawling across the bedroom ceiling (my wife, on the other hand, does not.)  Thinking back, I realize that his class lectures weren't all that fascinating -- heck, we were out-of-control high schoolers. No, what proved to be the deal clincher was Mr. Richard's passion for what he taught.  Maybe passion isn't the right word. It was more an obsession that "everyone needs to understand the importance of the living world around them."

Sometimes, Mr. Richard seemed as loony as a near-sighted amoeba. It took us a while to understand that he hailed from that class of excellent teachers who continue to influence our lives long after we leave their classrooms.

So, as you teachers prepare your classes, remember that your lessons today aren't just a discussion on some esoteric topic like the heterothermic mammal's circulatory system. What will stick in your students' minds long after they leave will be your enthusiasm, your dedication, your passion for teaching. Of all the professions in the world, none can offer that kind of privilege or challenge. And should you see my old biology teacher out there, tell him he was the greatest!  Also mention I wasn't the one who put the snakes in the sleeping bags.

Joe Barnhart is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He pedals to work in Dillon, Montana.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Western Slope Conservation Center Paonia, CO WSCC seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking and a creative problem-solver. Position Summary: The Executive Director leads...
  • ARIZONA STATE DIRECTOR
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT/HOSPITALITY SERVICES
    Seasoned ranch manager of award-winning conservation ranch seeking position as nature reserve/resort or ranch manager. Visit philipmoonwalker.com for resume and certifications. Contact: [email protected]
  • PART-TIME OREGON GRANT WRITER
    Help advance rights for people, communities, and nature - Part-time grant writer. The Oregon Community Rights Network (ORCRN) has been active over the last six...
  • UTAH PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Utah Public Lands Program Director Location: Southern Utah Position: Full Time (40 hours per week) Supervisor: Conservation Director About us: The Grand Canyon...
  • FSBO PROPERTY-SOUTHEAST ARIZONA
    Located in an area steeped in history, this gentleman's ranch sits at the entrance to the renowned Cave Creek Canyon. Enjoy picturesque views of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    JOIN OUR TEAM! The New Mexico Land Conservancy in Santa Fe is seeking a Land Conservation Project Manager who will work to protect land and...
  • HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NP
    Comfortable home at foot of Boulder Mountain, on one fenced acre. Amazing views!
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • NEW MEXICO PROPERTY - SILVER CITY
    20 acres, $80,000. Owner financing, well, driveway, fencing possible, very private, sensible covenants, broker owned. Contact - 575-534-7955 or [email protected]et.
  • SECLUDED COLORADO HIDEAWAY
    This passive solar home sits on 2 lots and offers an abundance of privacy and views while being only 15 minutes to downtown Buena Vista....
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.