When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

22 August 2008

An appreciation of a "natural"

One of the best teachers it has ever been my privilege to know, Don Houpe, died unexpectedly on Tuesday, at the far-too-young age of 67:
[Dr. Houpe] was the foreign language coordinator at the school, where Ginger Wilson, dean of humanities, said he was a very kind and caring teacher and person.

"He was a real linguist in that he was interested in the structure of the language," she said. "He had a tremendous impact on the students. He was somebody who was exceedingly patient with students, always willing to go the extra mile. He was probably one of the most dependable people you'd ever meet in your life. He loved this school, he loved teaching."

His wife agreed.

"He loved teaching and the School of Science and Math," she said. "It was like his second home. He said that he knew he, as a teacher, he was supposed to challenge the student. But he said in actuality the students were challenging him to be a better teacher."
Dr. Houpe was my Russian teacher at the NC School of Science and Mathematics (where he was a founding member of the excellent faculty) in the early 1980s, but he was much more than that; he was actually a one-man foreign language program unto himself. This gentle, funny, brilliant man was fluent in something like a dozen languages, including the artificial language Esperanto (which he taught as a seminar during "Special Projects Week" at NCSSM back in the day.)

I learned more about the structure of language from studying with Don Houpe than I ever realized at the time. He loved language, and he loved teaching.

A man of his intellect and caliber could've had any job in the world. That he chose to teach high-school students speaks volumes about his character and values.

Dankegon, Dr. Houpe. You will be missed.
"Teaching is the only major occupation of man for which we have not yet developed tools that make an average person capable of competence and performance. In teaching we rely on the "naturals," the ones who somehow know how to teach." -- Peter Drucker

No comments: