Last night, my wife asked me to pick up a few things for dinner just before I got off the bus from work. I stopped at Macey’s in Spanish Fork and there ran into one of my college professors, Steven C. Walker. I took English 376, Modern British Literature, from him during the fall semester of my senior year at BYU. That was in 1982.
It was one of the best and most memorable classes I ever took in college. So, of course, I remember Dr. Walker.
What makes a great teacher?
There is a quote attributed to John Wesley:
I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.
While I am unsure Wesley said that, that is exactly what Dr. Walker did, on a regular basis. Actually, maybe it was the other way around. Maybe he set the class on fire and then watched us burn.
It was more like an intellectual riot. I don’t care how shy you were, he drew you out. You got involved. You got scorched. As William E. Berrett said of a boyhood teacher:
We could have warmed our hands by the fire of his faith.
You couldn’t wait to come back and throw yourself back onto the fire.
It wasn’t just his teaching style that engaged you: He was genuinely interested in you as a student, as a person. One little, struggling krill in an ocean of students and unmet potential. He cared.
He still cares. We had a wonderful if short conversation. I mentioned how I still remember him teaching W. B. Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and that “bee-loud glade.” It was his passion, his involvement in the words, the words dripping with honey and meaning, words that, 29 years later, I can’t erase from my soul.
I wrote a paper in that class on another of Yeats’ poems, “Sailing to Byzantium.”
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress...
That paper was in a portfolio that I used to apply for my first writing job. I got that job. I am still writing, nearly every day. In fact, the job I have now came as a result of my writing several books on the technology that I am using.
So thank you, Dr. Walker. You have been one of the singing masters of my soul. You’ve had a lasting impact on my life. And, after nearly five decades of teaching, I am sure, thousands of others.
You just can’t forget your greatest teachers. They lend you a piece of themselves and it never leaves you. Dr. Walker, please keep on singing.