A good teacher leaves lasting legacy

February 27, 2005|By Thomas J. Reid

WHEN I LEARNED of the unexpected and tragic death of my colleague, William A. Bassett, I was in California visiting some St. Paul's alumni whose lives had been shaped by Mr. Bassett and other teachers like him.

Though now far from Baltimore and involved in careers and families, they remain connected to the school. Despite the differences in the life paths they chose to take, these young men share a commonality: growing up, they'd been blessed by teachers to guide and mentor them, to help them distinguish the hard right from the easy wrong, to influence the choices they made.

This is what a good teacher does, regardless of where he or she works, and there are hundreds and hundreds of good teachers in Baltimore who have the same effect on our youths, day in and day out. They deserve our praise and our recognition, not just for the obvious outcomes of a good education but also for the watchful, caring eye they turn on our children each day they walk through the door.

A good teacher gives the gift of hope and opportunity to our children. Given the time and resources they need to get to know their students, they forge lasting relationships full of trust and meaning. A good teacher knows which students need compassion, which need a little prodding, which need free rein to search for the answers themselves.

Good teachers educate their students about the world around them and how it works. They offer both classroom and life lessons. They exhibit a passion for learning and an ability to convey to their students the importance of absorbing these lessons in order to enjoy a life well lived.

Two young men allegedly took the life of one such teacher.

If these young men had been students of Mr. Bassett's, perhaps his optimism would have rubbed off on them. Perhaps, sitting in his first-period class on a Thursday morning, even only half-awake, they would have sensed that this man had the best intentions for all of his students at heart - that he was always watching out for them and rooting for them, not just when they were in his class.

Mr. Bassett helped his students believe in things good and worthy of effort and commitment. He helped students believe in their dreams. And he knew that most young men need help to look beyond their immediate needs, because without such guidance, impulsive, even thoughtless, actions result.

On the night of Feb. 18, just such a thoughtless action resulted in the death of Bill Bassett. I wish these two young men could have known him. Would anyone whose life was full of the promise and hope that a good teacher - such as Mr. Bassett - can instill have been in that mall parking lot with a shotgun? I do not believe so.

Only when we make the commitment to truly supporting our teachers, youth workers and others who provide children a sense of hope and opportunity, will such violence come to an end.

Sadly, with Bill Bassett's death, we have lost one of the best at doing that. It is a great loss for St. Paul's and for Baltimore. I only hope that Mr. Bassett's spirit, which lives on in the teachers he trained and influenced at St. Paul's, will continue to inspire them and all who work with the children of Baltimore. In that way, some good could come of this senseless tragedy.

Thomas J. Reid is the headmaster at St. Paul's School.

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