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Welcome to our Inside Education Series!

Inside Education is a four-part series where we have students (present & past) talk about teachers that made a profound impact in their lives.

Murray Baker profile picture.
Murray Baker, writer.

 

Mr. Christian taught Honors English at Prairie High School. Enrolled in Honors English as a freshman, we would bring all of our uncertainty and eagerness to his first period class. His serious, straightforward approach to curriculum and willingness to notice students’ voice in lecture made every student aware that his class was going to be memorable (whether they liked it or not). Juan Christian, commonly referred to as ‘Juan’ in the lunchroom, boasting a Reed degree, always cut a couple minutes out of his class to let us know how his personal life was going with his woodworking projects, relationships with prior students, and perceptions of current events.

Why teacher was different

Mr. Christian modified curriculum to improve students’ writing capabilities. Every Friday there was a vocabulary test, based on a personally recommended book. He chose books from our curriculum, and after many lectures discusses concepts such as themes, motifs, and character foils, came his literary analysis essays. He famously emphasized that, ‘Every sentence must contribute to the thesis’. A powerful and specific thesis gave our essays strength.

Powerful verbs can really pack a punch. Later, I read a book about writing by Steven King emphasizing the same concept. Adverbs are weak, and tense should always be as forward as possible. A large vocabulary can never be underestimated, word choice regarding tense and appropriate usage make a piece of writing what it is.

 

Example of a project

Given an opportunity to do a research essay, we picked out a figure from American history and wrote a detailed research analysis of their life and work. I chose the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski. Noting a couple books about his life, the news of his bombings, as well as his manifesto, my thesis examined the Unabomber’s turn from Columbia University education to his disgruntled Colorado hermitude explaining where he lost his will and why he did what he did.

 

Impact on me

I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without this man’s guidance. He emphasised concision, achieved with a strong vocabulary and familiarity with what not to do. The concepts of tense, vocabulary, and redundancy transformed my writing.

 

Why we need more teachers like this

This teacher demanded that goals would be met on a weekly and project to project basis. Given a curriculum, bigger goals were met while easily adhering to guidelines. Offering his time after class, he would sit down with his students and explain what could make their papers better.

 

How we can help teachers be like this

This teacher reworked existing curriculum to challenge and engage students, impressing faculty/staff and parents/students. Emphasizing fundamentals and nailing concepts into students’ heads made us reborn approaching his subject, English.

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Shardul Golwalkar