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

  • ShinnstonGuy

    Thanks, Hop.

    "She enlightened us without indoctrination."

    If only more people would watch more mainstream news and less Fox and MSNBC to come to that realization.

  • stophating

    "I was a cocky 17-year-old with little understanding about contrary views. My world was narrow and safe." One might argue that you have reverted back to ur previous form..... When was the last time you stopped beating the FOXNEWS drum?

    • Hop'sHip

      Hoppy replaced Newsweek with Newsmax. Hey, it's all NEWS.

  • Frank/Moundsville

    Good post, Hoppy. I had a home room nun in high school, Sr. Ruth Marie, who made us learn (at least she introduced them) 5 new words everyday before the classes started for the day. These words stay with me to this day and I usually (not always) go right to the nearby dictionary when I see a word I'm not familiar with...............Bishop Donahue High School, a great place.

  • Uncle Unctuous

    My late mom was a teacher. At her funeral, the minister read a lovely tribute written by a former student. To this day, people tell me how influential she was in their young lives. I seethe when teachers are disparaged as a group by the sort of people who do that type of thing.

  • Mark

    Your teacher would be proud that you've grown from a "cocky 17-year-old with little understanding contrary views" into a cocky grown-up with little understanding about contrary views. Your world continues to be narrow.

    • Harpers Ferry

      Or maybe the problem lies not with Hoppy, but with the person you see in the mirror everyday. Your comment contradicts itself.

  • Tim D.

    In my day, teachers like Miss Knott were few and far between. I had a similar teacher in 9th grade...it was by far my favorite class. Nice article Hoppy.

  • Sara

    I think Hop's commentary today is more telling than even he thought it might be. Judging from the replies, it's obvious that some people understand what they are reading and some people don't have a clue what they are reading. And they probably don't have any interest in thinking for themselves.

    • Brian

      Amen! Sorry, should have just "+1"ed so as not to offend anyone. But good comment, Sara

  • wvu999

    I'm assuming Ms Knott was a non union teacher who wasn't just there for a check like the teachers you all bash today. Today's teachers are terrible, all of them, and are over paid especially the union ones.

    • Joe

      Uh....yeah.

    • Harpers Ferry

      As Shakespeare once said, "Troll or sarcasm, that is the question."

      • Joe

        Shakespeare also wrote in Richard III, "Were thy heart as hard as steel, as thou hath shown flinty by thy deeds, I have come to pierce it or to give thee mine".

        To translate into wvu999's venacular Harper, "He's a yo-yo"!

        • BR

          “Who knows himself a braggart,
          Let him fear this, for it will come to pass
          that every braggart shall be found an ass.”

          All’s Well Than Ends Well, Act 4, Scene 3.

          To "translate" for ya little Joe and Harpie - "Being pompous only makes you sound like an ass"

          Have a good day.

    • Sally Jackson

      Seems that you are painting with an over- broad brush. ALL teachers are terrible and overpaid? Do you really believe that?

  • A Punk Ninth Grader

    I had a ninth grade teacher as well that provoked contrary thought. Her name was Mrs. Baily and in hindsight, she knew very well what was coming for our society and Nation.

    Mrs. Baily was well into her late 70's in 1973 and she absolutely deplored my generation, particularly the age group of myself and fellow students.

    At a parent-teacher conference Mrs. Baily expressed her disdain for "my generation" to my Mother-- words that have stuck with me to this day... "God Help this Country when these kids today are running it" ---- She was right. Starting with Clinton then to W. Bush to now the worst of all, Obama, my generation has ruined and will be the death of this Constitutional Country.

    If I were to be given a choice between my Mrs. Baily or your Miss Knot as to which would teach my children, I would pick Mrs. Baily.

    • Herder

      What facts, even a tittle of a fact, can you name that has had made any changes of the Constitution of this country during this time period?

    • Hop'sHip

      Punky Ninth Grader: You'll feel differently when you get to high school. Let's hope.

      • A Punk Ninth Grader

        From your abstract and concrete thinking skills maybe you should try posting as Uncle Asperger.

        • Hop'sHip

          I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. I was hoping no graduate of any high school would prefer to have their kids taught by someone who had disdain for them. Maybe I'm wrong.

  • Scott Daniel

    I too had Miss Knott as a teacher. Our political thoughts were far apart but she pushed me to understand both sides of the issues. I don't know how many teachers of today are teaching Life Lessons. Thank You Miss Knott

    • Jose Wales

      Scott , you were such a trouble maker in high school .

  • Hop'sHip

    Nice encomium. "She enlightened us without indoctrination." Maybe Hoppy can adopt that modus operandi when preparing his commentaries? (And he sometimes does) Now that would be a fitting and enduring tribute.

    • Shrek

      High 5 Donkey!

    • Shadow

      You live in such a small world. Hoppy speaks of the goodness of a teacher that inspired him and all you can say is sarcasm. Get a Life. From you attitude, it is obvious that you never has a Miss Knott.

      • Hop'sHip

        Well Shadow. It's too bad you didn't have a Ms Knott who "challenged her students to keep up on what was happening and to consider other views." I doubt she would ever tell someone to "Get a life." She sounds like someone who respected everyone's life.

        • Shadow

          You attack a person who cannot reply to your attacks and then are upset because it is brought to your attention. Try being positive as Hoppy was and is.

          • Hop'sHip

            Uhh... Shadow. I do not understand you often. Could you claify where I "attack(ed) a person who cannot reply to (my) attacks?"

          • Shadow

            It is not in Hoppy;s Job Description to reply to the nasty comments to his column.

      • Uncle Unctuous

        The poor grammar alone earns that comment a C-. Very sloppy.

        • A Punk Ninth Grader

          Mr. Uncle, now you being as petty as Hop's, your nephew.

  • Medman

    Hoppy, I was lucky enough to have had two "Miss Knotts" in my elementary and high schools. When I hear the daily stories coming from our public schools that tell us about ridiculous zero tolerance policies, banning our national flag on tee shirts, or excising anything related to religion from the system, I have to wonder if there are any more Miss Knotts or anyone with a lick of common sense who is in charge of educating our kids.

  • CaptainQ

    A fitting tribute, Hoppy.

    Well written.

  • Joe

    Terrific column, Hop. Don Robinson and Wanda Gellner are my most influential teachers....who saw a young man with potential who was scared of mathematics and taught and convinced him he could have this dream of being a successful engineer with hard work and passion.

    Rarely a week passes that they both are not thought fondly of.

    Joe

  • David Kennedy

    Great article, Hoppy.

    We remember those great teachers who gave us everything and the poor ones who gave us almost nothing. All of the others seem to fade into an un-remembered obscurity.
    I was in grade school when WV was integrated with the blacks. Our school received two great teachers when their High School was done away with.
    Those teachers had Masters Degree's
    ( which was the WV Jim Crow law at that time)
    The white teachers could teach on a 2 year Certificate.
    I was one of the most fortunate of kids to have had those teachers...such kindness and the fostering of the person's will to do the very best.
    In my 6th Grade class, I gave 128 book reports...it was because of the urging of that lovely teacher.
    She went on to become a school Principal and many, many others were graced by her dedication and commitment.
    As individuals, we are the product of those schools and the education we absorb.
    There is no finer personal commitment to the community or the individual than to be an educator.
    We have been blessed to have grown up and been schooled in that certain, wonderful time.

    • Uncle Unctuous

      Good comment. I learned something from you. Having been born after integration, I didn't know about the master's degree requirement.