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Caution: Flying Chalk

When I asked my sister who I should dedicate my next Teacher Appreciation blog post to, she said, “Mr. Schusterbauer, of course.” So, here it goes…  

My memories of high school and college are vague, obscured by a filter of depression I still haven’t quite managed to shake off. Looking back, I can’t quite pinpoint the exact reason why I imprinted on my high school English teacher.  Maybe I was desperately seeking a father-figure.  Maybe I needed someone who would “let” me love reading and writing. 

Here’s what I do remember: 

As a teacher, I sometimes try to see myself in my students.  Truth be told, my perception of high school Sara is probably quite different from that of my teachers, friends, classmates, and family. I don’t remember standing out, but my little sister, who visited me one day, said it was like walking in the hallways with a celebrity – all smiles and hugs.  

I do remember being a bit of a goody-two shoes.  I would walk into Mr. Schusterbauer’s class, wondering what outrageous “Fight the man!” thing he would say next.  Of course, as a high school girl in the nineties, the idea of “fighting the man” was completely lost on me.  I couldn’t even stand up to my parents.  Retrospectively, I wish I was more “woke” to appreciate what Mr. Schusterbauer was trying to accomplish.

Even though I can’t remember a specific example, I do remember Mr. Schusterbauer asking us questions that pushed boundaries and emboldened us to really think.  I remember wanting to make him proud – I would take so many notes, and listen quite earnestly. 

As I write this, I realize that I am no Mr. Schusterbauer – and that makes me kind of sad. 

But then, I remember the thing I am most grateful for learning in Mr. Schusterbauer’s class…. Never apologize. Amidst the flying chalk to emphasize a point (or, more likely, to get our attention), Mr. Schusterbauer, for all his brashness and rebellion, never apologized for being exactly who he is.   

Not everyone was a fan – and he would remind us that not everyone needed to be.  He was unapologetically human and real – and would talk to us like we were people, not kids.  He didn’t care about grades, and he encouraged us to advocate for ourselves. (I guess, maybe I am a little bit like Mr. Schusterbauer, after all.)

Years later, when I was teaching in Kansas – Mr. Schusterbauer accepted my friend request on Facebook, and for a little while, we were able to stay in touch.  In 2009, he retired from teaching, after teaching 30 years at Mercy High School in Farmington.  I was home for the summer and was able to attend the ceremony. He graciously welcomed us to his retirement party at Dick O’Dowd’s in Birmingham, where he occasionally would serve as a bartender/host on warm, summer evenings.  He deleted his Facebook account leading up to the 2012 presidential election – and has kept a low-profile ever since.  

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom he shared with me, proving that a teacher’s influence never ends: 

  •  “Hard to be anyone of principle and keep quiet.”
  • “Because there is no point in fighting for things that do not matter.”
  • “Right now, all he needs is to have someone to listen to. You.”
  • “It is a choice. And it is a choice that will affect your entire life, trust me on this.” 

One of the last things he shared with me was this, “Knowing you has given me cause to be optimistic about the future. What good fortune for your kids to have you as a teacher.”  It is I, Mr. Schusterbauer, who is the lucky one – to have had you as my teacher, my friend. 

Here is the feature in Mercy’s Newsprint on Mr. Schusterbauer shortly before his retirement.

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