O Captain, My Captain


The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;

From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won.

~Walt Whitman

I learned just two weeks ago that my favorite high school teacher was terminally ill.

How much longer? is what I wanted to know.

And though I didn’t have to wait too long for my answer, I am grateful that I had enough time to write him one last letter.

His influence on me through the years has been enormous, but just lately, I’ve been thinking most of all about what made James Cockrell such a great teacher. Here in our small part of the world, the most common question the parent of a four year old is asked is (SAY IT WITH ME, PRESCHOOL PARENTS!):

Where are you sending her to school next year?

To which I mostly just shrug, and say honestly: I don’t know.

James Cockrell was a simple man, in a simple town, doing a simple (but not so simple if you do it right) job, at a simple public high school, and yet he was able to accomplish much because of his passion for his subject, for his students, and for teaching.

And yet, when faced with a lot of complicated, problematic, and/or expensive options for educating our three children, nothing is simple.

I do know this: I want my children to love to learn. When they’re done, I want them to be proud of what they’ve accomplished, because it was hard and they did it anyway. I don’t want it to be easy, and I don’t want straight A’s.

I want teachers who light fires.

Preferably on the first day of school. With candles on an A/V cart and a copy of the Illiad.

I don’t think that’s asking too much.


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