In college, I took an honors freshman rhetoric seminar from a special teacher, John V. Knapp. I’d had mostly good, and many, many great teachers, but John was different in some way that was a bit enigmatic. It may have been the eclectic reading list he assigned (14 books in one semester) or the provocative way the questions he asked linked the books together in some way that I didn’t see coming. I think it was more the expectations he set for my writing. The frustration level I felt when the assignments came back without A’s was worth it because John was a teacher. He set office hours that made him available so that anyone who wanted to could improve their communication skills.
It was John’s own skill as a communicator, both verbal and written that helped each of us get better, if we wanted to put in the time. But as I began to write about John as a teacher, the enigmatic quality still escaped me until John wrote to me just the other day…
“It’s funny, there have been several good teachers who have helped me along the way, both in college and in the three graduate programs I have attended (Syracuse; Illinois; Wisconsin), but I can’t recall all of their names. Some (maybe many) I remember because of their personalities; a few I felt competitive with (“you can’t give me a B! I’ll show you”), while most I admired for what they helped bring out in my own thinking or dreaming.”
As I read what John wrote I realized what this enigmatic thing was–it was what I wanted from myself for my own students as a teacher–how could I inspire the joy, the wonder, the dreams that stuff are made of? Could I somehow model the joie de vivre that would make kids curious? How does learning get designed with dreams in mind?
So, 47 years later, John writes me an email and does it again, all over. He described his best teachers and in doing so, described himself to me. I hope that somewhere someone thinks of me and says the same, that I helped bring out their own thinking or dreaming.
So a big thank you to John V. Knapp, Professor of English at Northern Illinois University.
Also I salute John for the book he is writing with Tom McCann, On Common Ground: What English Language Arts Teachers Need to Know.