The Family Business

Isaac is really, really allergic to chalk dust. Expound on the virtues of the whiteboard at [email protected].

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For a lot of us, the formal education that's been a large part of our lives for the last 16 years is finally coming to a close-at least for a little while. Whatever your school, whatever the strength of your football team, whatever your financial situation, the most valuable part of one's educational experience is the people, especially the teachers.

I come from a family of teachers. My sister wanted to teach her whole life, and now she can silence a class of Chico's unruliest seventh-graders with a glance. Dad sort of fell into it for lack of something else to do and realized after a year of cold sweats and butterflies between classes that he kind of liked it-and was even good at it.

It's something of a calling, I think, and one I have vigorously tried to avoid. Maybe it's because my housemates pegged me from the start. They had the cool, sexy career paths to talk about, like biophysics and mechanical engineering, and I was instantly labeled "the English teacher." More than anything else, I can't stand being pigeonholed, so there's considerable potential for backlash there.

But sitting down, doing the whole graduation announcement/thank you ritual, a list began to form of the people I wanted to contact about graduation, the ones who've had the most effect on my life.

All teachers. Every single one, be they coaches or classroom teachers or just good friends, has been a mentor to me. Saying teachers have an impact is kind of tautological-but sometimes you find your guides in the most uncommon places.

Gary Childs and Jeff Greenberg, my high school basketball coaches, who took me from just being "the big kid" to someone who actually understood the game. Gary and I would spend the J.V. and varsity games talking about music, girls and literature. Coach Greenberg taught me how to take a charge and how to take responsibility for those around me.

Randy Randall, who taught me about diligence, and his wife Sharon, who inspired me to take journalism seriously. My swim coach Ken Esaki, whose mantra of "Don't do dumb!" comes to mind every time I do something dumb. Stephanie Miller-Lamb, who taught me how to cover my ass with the university and helped me see an exciting legacy through to its conclusion.

Miyata-sensei taught me a little something about kendo and a whole lot about how to live my life-to focus, to have spirit, and never, ever to hesitate.

Felipe Guteriez, who I've looked up to all through college and probably doesn't even know it. Thanks to him I've actually found a branch of the law that seems appealing and have an internship to boot.

And of course, my friends-the ones who called the next morning, the ones who have always believed in me and never doubted me for one second. They're teachers too; they've taught me how to be the kind of friend they deserve.

The list is long-and looking at it changed things. Since last week's column I've been planning out the direction of my life and I realized-didn't plan, just realized-that I'll end up teaching some day. And I'm content with that.

Teaching can be as agonizing as it can be gratifying. Low pay, disrespect, and a lack of support from all sides makes it seem about as appealing as walking through Sproul during election week.

But that's also what makes teaching so noble. You don't do it for the fun, and you certainly don't do it for the cash-you do it because it's a wonderful thing.

It's not uncommon for me to run into old students of my father's in the bars back at home who tell me how he changed their lives. That's a wonderful thing, and I'd like to have the same effect on someone someday.

It's not going to be immediately, but in 10 years or so I'm sure I'll be writing "Mr. Clemens" on the chalkboard in shaky fingers on my first day of class.


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