Bexley News

Schools Notebook

Teachers' challenges can change students' minds


I remember being told, "He's one of the hardest teachers in the school, but he's the man." To me, a prepubescent, shaggy-haired, scrawny freshman, there could be no such teacher, "hardest in the school" and "the man."

Wasn't the easiest teacher always the coolest?

I walked in to Mr. Featherstone's honors history class on my first day of high school and sat down closest to the door.

After taking attendance, doing introductions and handing out a syllabus, he confidently stated something along the lines of, "This class will be the hardest class you have taken up to this point in your schooling career and most of you will fail our first test." Naturally, this terrified me.

Twenty-five glassy eyed, motionless freshmen, all drained of their color, stared back at him in awe and began to seriously reconsider their decisions to join his class. Was this a sick joke?

"But!" he said, "If you work hard, I will work equally as hard and you will learn more than you ever have in any class; I promise you that."

And man, oh, man was Mr. Featherstone right.

Every day brought something new. His classes went beyond lectures, notes, slide shows and busy work. His classes were performances -- musical, and more often than not, theatrical.

He advocated a college-like atmosphere in his class, one in which students wanted to learn. He pushed us to study, to read, to think, rather than regurgitate or merely memorize. He stressed the importance of debate, deliberation, compromise, and most importantly, discussion.

He encouraged conversation and tastefully advocated disagreement, and often demanded it, calling on random class members to give answers, putting them in the hot seat.

Never before had I found myself yearning for more information and wanting to do the homework. Never before had I actually studied in advance for tests, rather than the night before. Never before had I felt so competent, efficient and excited about my studies.

I remember thinking, if this is what college is like, can I go there now? Is it healthy to enjoy school this much?

At the time, this was a new sensation: wanting to learn. Mr. Featherstone set my brain in motion, but it didn't stop with him.

Looking back now, from the perspective of a college student, there were various teachers in my four years at Bexley High School who pushed my limits, broadened my lens and perhaps most importantly, humbled me.

These were the teachers like Mr. Tatman, Dr. Romanczuk, Dr. McMahon and Mrs. Horger, who held their students to the highest standards, and prepared them (and me) for success.

Teachers such as these gave me a thrust toward thinking, acting and performing like a scholar, something that would prove important to my college preparation. For those students motivated enough to accept the challenge, the reward was staggering.

Although I did fail my first honors history test, I came out of that class in June illuminated with a radiant sense of knowledge and confidence. I felt enlightened.

Contrary to my belief, what Mr. Featherstone's former student had said was true.

Caleb Fechtor, a 2011 graduate of Bexley High School contributed this Schools Notebook column. Fechtor will be a junior at Boston University this fall.