As a high school junior, I learned American history from Mr. Hougas, a teacher whose career was defined by a love of history and the depth of relationships he was able to forge with his students. Mr. Hougas had a profound impact on me as a student and as a teacher.
Mr. Hougas was passionate about history. Often, he would grow emotional about the topic at hand. I remember him chastising the Daughters of the American Revolution for refusing to allow Marion Anderson to sing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in the early 1930s. I clearly recall his eyes welling up with tears when he taught us about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I can still hear the disappointment in his voice as he described the failure of Woodrow Wilson’s peace efforts to gain the approval of the U.S. Congress after World War I. For Mr. Hougas, The textbook was a reference, not the foundation of his teaching. This foundation, rather, was his deep knowledge of history that stemmed from his passion for the subject. This foundation, more importantly, was complemented equally by his desire to share this passion with young people.
As a teacher, Mr. Hougas was effective and successful because he conveyed his passion for history through the relationships he forged with his students. He connected with his students, albeit some more deeply than others. On the whole, however, his classes were ones in which the students were engaged and connected to him and to one another. We were connected because he took the time and cared enough to nurture his relationships with us by getting to know what motivated each of us. We were also connected to him because he was a demanding teacher, one who was challenging because he wanted us to succeed rather than settle for mediocrity or the hollow acceptance of a good grade that was bereft of solid learning. Through the high expectations he had for his students, he made it clear that achievement was a process and that potential was ours to own. As a result, I began to recognize the potential he saw in me.
Whatever our area of expertise or responsibility, teachers at Trinity-Pawling are called to convey our passion for teaching through the relationships we forge and nurture with our students. In our work with young men, we have the responsibility to teach them that achievement is a process and potential is theirs to own. We are called to help our students cherish success and abhor mediocrity as we model this in our own work. We are called to ensure that we and our students understand that achievement bereft of learning is a weak foundation upon which to build and an unfulfilling way to move forward in life.
Such a call can be challenging as it takes time, effort, humility, and commitment to nurturing these relationships. This call, however, is a tremendous opportunity for it beckons us to be better teachers and it leads us to advance a school that will be stronger tomorrow than it is today. Finally, this call can be a gift and a reward for it allows us to reach the young men whom we teach — challenging them to work toward the fullness of their potential and leading them toward a deeper appreciation of their gifts and talents as students and children of God. As our work continues into the academic year, this call remains a bar toward which all educators at Trinity-Pawling must aspire as we help prepare the boys whom we teach to be leaders and young men of honor.
by William W. Taylor