I have benefited from many excellent teachers in my life.  Each one left me a little better than the first day I walked into their classrooms.

One of the more influential of those instructors died last week.  Sue Knott was 74, but I remember her as a young, spirited and controversial teacher during my senior year at Jefferson High School.

She taught a current events class… with an edge.

I was a cocky 17-year-old with little understanding about contrary views.  My world was narrow and safe.

Miss Knott changed that by undoing that safety net.  She challenged her students to keep up on what was happening and to consider other views.

In 1972, race was still a dominant issue, and we focused on it in class.  One day Miss Knott, who was white, made a black student stand up and say, “I’m black and I’m proud.”  I can still feel the tension of that morning as Miss Knott urged him on.

She made each of us read a book by or about someone of another race.  I read Muhammad Ali’s Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee.  Back then, Ali was a highly controversial figure because of his affiliation with the Black Muslims and his decision to forgo the draft.

One of my classmates, John League, remembered Miss Knott fondly.  “I was a horrible high school student, but I read the Washington Post every day,” League remembered Sunday as we chatted about our former teacher.  “I suddenly went from being an ‘also ran’ to somebody who actually knew something.”

League, who went on to become publisher of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail newspaper, said, “I looked forward to the class every day.  That was a rare occurrence.”

Miss Knott also required us to read one of the news magazines of the time.  I chose Newsweek, and kept that subscription until a few years ago.

For League, me and others who embraced the class, Miss Knott stirred something in us.  She pushed the boundaries and tossed the conventional wisdom aside.  She enlightened us without indoctrination.

I got another lesson later in life from Miss Knott.  I bumped into her once in Shepherdstown years after graduation and told her how much her class had meant to me and my career.

She stared at me for a moment and said “thanks,” but she really didn’t remember me.  Yet another lesson from Miss Knott–humility.

Today I often have to remind myself of Miss Knott’s lessons, to push back against the safety of what I already know or think I know.  The key is to keep learning and to have the courage to consider other points of view that contradict mine.

That can be uncomfortable and even disturbing, just as Miss Knott would have wanted.

 

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Comments

  • Teresa Jenkins

    Yes, Hoppy, Miss Knott was like no one else I'd ever met; she taught and demonstrated how to see issues from both sides. She even made dreaded American Economics interesting. She was also my YCC (National Parks Youth Conservation Corp) summer supervisor.

  • George E. Tabb, Jr

    Miss Knott was, without a doubt, the best teacher I ever had. She was innovative and somehow got all of us to want to learn more. I have benefitted from what I learned from her in huge ways. She truly cared about all of her students. I only wish I had the opportunity to tell her this.

  • Robert Rizzo

    Listen to your show...You make J HIGH proud every day..Thanx for writing about Ms Knott--she was special to our school .Having known her as a fellow Teacher and long time friend----will miss to say the least.. WvRizzos

  • Sally Jackson

    Thank you so much for the fond recollectionl of a wonderful teacher. I had not known she passed away.
    She was so enthusiastic and involved with her student; a really outstanding educator.

  • Barry Vitez

    Hoppy, Ms. Knott was absolutely my favorite. Haven't seen her for several years, but will never forget her. RIP Sue

  • Connie Washburn

    I know she would be proud of your article. It is amazing, that after teaching for many years, it is hard to remember every student, but quite interesting when they tell you what they remember about what you did in class for them.
    I get that from several of my former students.

  • Lisa Brooks Fausey

    Miss Knott is the reason I love current events, read periodicals, love to debate & love being challenged on my beliefs. She taught me to be fair and defend the weak, different & meek. She also unknowingly made me into a conservative Republican. Sail on Miss Sue Knott!

  • mark b

    I too had Ms. Knott for contemporary affairs as did my sister 4 years before. Between her and Ms. Lee for psychology, it made for a very entertaining senior year! She could very much stimulate a conversation.

  • Jose Wales

    Ms Knott was the best teacher I had during my days at J High 1983 -1985. I had her class with one of my best friends my senior year and we also had study hall w her after lunch. We gave her all she could handle and she gave it right back. We both respected her , she was a rarity at that school

  • COACH44

    HOP

    Great story. I had the fortunate opportunity to serve as an admin at JHIGH when Miss. Knott was still teaching. She was a true professional always concerned about school policies and how we could function as a school to better serve our students.

    My daughter had her and praised Mrs. Knott for her caring demeanor yet trite way of pushing students to their fullest potential.

    Miss. Knott often spent Monday evenings working after school with students allowing them to gain extra credit and brush up on their skills.

    But most importantly she challenged her students to THINK for themselves and formulate an OPINION and the how to SHARE that opinion.

    She demonstrated with her dedication that classrooms can extend beyond the normal school day and can be full of life lessons.

    Personally she and I shared a LOVE for the NATIONALS and often talked about the last evenings highlights...
    She will be sadly missed....

  • kensgirl

    I had Miss Knott in 1980-81. I don't quite agree with the "without indoctrination" statement, but she WAS a good teacher. Our "textbook" was Newsweek magazine that year. I remember her nearly collapsing into paroxysms of grief at the death of John Lennon, and that she always clung to being a child of the 60s. And she unofficially "encouraged" us to skip school on January 20, 1981 and hop the Metro down to DC for the Inauguration (which we did, even though it meant taking an unexcused absence.)

    I was not aware that she had passed away.

  • Patrick Corley

    By far, the greatest teacher I ever had! She taught the way it's supposed to be done and greatly prepared me for college. She will be missed, and her lessons will stay with me for life.

  • Leroy j Gibbs

    Actually Mr iaquinta was helpful to me in 8th grade. He was introducing soccer to central junior high and encouraged me to participate and to try new things. He was a positive influence on me in giving a teenager confidence and goals in life

  • DP

    Wonderful article Hoppy! Sadly, you have to put up with the usual disdainful comments from your regular Left Wing Lemmings! These jerkoffs obviously have nothing better to do with their time than to criticize you. What PATHETIC LIVES they obviously live!!!!!

  • Harpers Ferry

    Hoppy, I am a Jefferson grad, as well, but I was there after Miss Knott had left, although I know her family. Just like you, I had a GREAT teacher at JHS (thank you Mrs. Lee) that had a lasting impact on my life. My thoughts go out to the Knott family and as a teacher I hope I have the same impact on my students as Miss Knott had on hers.

    • kensgirl

      I liked Mrs. Lee, although I never had her as a teacher. The teachers who still resonate with me were Mr. Doug Perks and Mr. Densil Nibert.