In August of 1992, I began my life as a full time student at McHenry County College in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, Illinois. That semester I had a schedule that included a U.S. history course which started bright and early at 8am. Many people loathe the subject, but for some reason I didn’t feel that way back then – even at that time of the morning.
From the first class meeting, I sensed it would be a good semester because the instructor, Mr. Hill, had the amazing ability to maintain your interest with lectures that blended content, humor, and personal anecdotes that made you look forward to coming back. He also challenged us with all essay exams. This meant that you really needed to work hard if you intended to succeed.
I remember spending hours reading and studying in my bedroom at home, and I recall the morning of the very first exam I ever took in there. Unfortunately, no matter how much I prepared, it seemed like I could not not earn a grade any higher than a high C or a low B. In the end, I earned a C for the class, but I felt proud of it because of the effort I had made.
The following year I decided to enroll in another one of Mr. Hill’s courses because I knew I liked his teaching style and learned so much from him the first time around. That fall I fine-tuned my study skills and managed to earn an A.
While I didn’t fully realize it at the time, I felt drawn to history because Mr. Hill had the distinctive ability to inspire people. Today, he stands out as one of the best instructors I have ever had in all of my years in higher education. It’s not enough for a teacher to possess great knowledge – he or she must also be able to communicate it in such a way that makes the subject matter appealing to students. Yes, the delivery matters, and it matters just as much as the content and rigor.
Several months ago I felt compelled to write him a letter telling him how much he influenced my academic interests as well as my career choices. I also mentioned how I am an adjunct instructor at M.C.C. as I make my way through my doctoral program. When I didn’t hear back from him, I figured that he might be preoccupied in his retirement. If that were the case, then I could totally understand since he dedicated decades of his life to the school.
Then, much to my surprise, he visited my classroom last night. It’s hard for me to describe how happy I felt to see him again. We chatted about our lives for 20 minutes or so, and he thanked me for the letter. Wow, I’m so glad he stopped by. Moreover, I’m glad to see he is still the same person all of these years later. Looking back at a time that is now half of my life ago, I am forever thankful I enrolled in his class because he profoundly affected me in a way that I will never forget.