I want to tell you a story. This story has nothing to do with basketball, but everything to do with living well, making an impact, and success.
My 8th grade year, we had an intern in our earth science class. His name was Mr. Culp. We claimed he looked like Matt Jones (the Arkansas quarterback at the time). It was probably the hair swoop. He was cool. Whatever. My 12th grade year, I took AP Biology at Har-Ber High School. Guess who my teacher was. Mr. Culp. He was a good enough teacher (and by good enough, I mean he was really good). He was relaxed, passionate, easy to interact with, and comical. I had his class first period, so sometimes my teammates and I would show up late (yes, I did that). We learned to bring some extra breakfast burritos with us. That seemed to help matters. He always had a joke or something ridiculous to show us, like the airzooka he kept in his closet. Sometimes the airzooka was a weapon to be used on other teachers, sometimes just to wake us up. But he was passionate about science. In that year, I learned a ton…about science, life, and how to have a good time. I did well enough on my AP exam. Looking back on it, I probably would have gotten a 5 on that thing if I had chosen to complete it instead of leaving about 25% of it blank.
I went to college. I dominated all my classes in my first semester, including biology. I constantly wanted to thank Mr. Culp for teaching me the Krebs Cycle, Punnett squares, the genetic code, and everything else that I already knew and never forgot. I never did get to properly thank him. On January 5, 2009, Mr. Culp left his house to attend a work day at Har-Ber. I was at home to attend the funeral of a family member. The plan was to go up to Har-Ber on Tuesday to thank all my teachers for how well they had prepared me, and for putting up with me. It was cold outside, but not snowy or anything. There was an icy patch on the bridge near Mr. Culp’s house. That icy patch turned out to be fatal. How quickly things can change.
He was wearing his seat belt. Of course he was. He valued life too much to do anything differently. His wife had recently found out she was pregnant with their second child.
There are so many Culp stories that I could share with you. I could tell you about the time he taught his two year old daughter about the Krebs cycle by drawing it on the wall of the bathtub. I could tell you about when a student showed up to graduation without the right shoes and Mr. Culp gave up his. I could tell you about how red in the face I would get when he would holler my name down the hall, for no reason whatsoever. We also had a pet fish in class. Man. He could talk some trash, so I often found it best to just keep my mouth shut, lest I get beat. I could tell you about how he would randomly walk in to a chemistry teacher’s classroom simply to inform everyone that “Chemistry sucks!” He always said that we could not call him Thomas until we had graduated and had a job. Well Thomas, here I am.
My favorite quote from Mr. Culp was when someone would tell him, “I’m done.” His response, every time: “Turkeys are done. People are finished.”
His ‘famous quote’ was that he was “Bending the future to his will, one student at a time.” He wrote a creed as part of his application to teach at Har-Ber. It was left on a Facebook page in his memory. Here it is:
Teaching and Learning Beliefs
My student is an active participant in a process geared towards allowing them a better understanding of the scientific world, becoming a moralistic critical thinker. To do this, I will strive to provide a learning environment in which the student is an active participant in discussion and scientific discovery.
All children can learn.
Teaching is an active process of interactions between the student and the teacher.
Teachers have an obligation to teach more than just the facts of their subject.
Teachers should introduce some sort of basic morals to their students.
Teachers should show students how to think critically.
Assessment is an essential method to improving teaching strategies.
Teachers should show a great enthusiasm for the science they are teaching.
Experimentation and discovery should be the central theme to learning science.
Teachers should include interdisciplinary approaches to teaching science.
Teachers should engage students and assure active learning.
Teachers should be active learners themselves: about the subject, about their students, and about teaching pedagogy.
Teachers should make care to be inclusive of all races and both sexes.
Teachers should make an effort to diminish the prejudices of themselves and students.
The class should instill a desire in the student to do their best work, a measure of accountability.
I know this is a long, and seemingly rambled post. But I think there are valuable lessons to be learned from Mr. Culp and his life:
- Have a sense of humor.
- Do what you love.
- Believe that everyone can learn.
- Share your passion. Whether it was about science, being outdoors, or telling a joke, Mr. Culp made you feel his passion.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and win the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!
Mr. Culp succeeded. It’s been five years since Mr. Culp’s accident, but his success has not diminished. Instead, his success has only grown. He laughed a lot, and still makes us laugh. He earned all of our affection. He had a deep appreciation of beauty, especially in nature and in people. He always found the best in others. He left the world a lot better, not just a bit. Lives continue to breathe easier because he lived. In his succeeding, Mr. Culp taught me how to succeed. I hope you can read this and learn about how we, as teachers, can make a difference and achieve success. Success isn’t measured in AP scores, grades, or wins and losses. Success is measured by appreciation and impact. Thank you, Mr. Culp, for making an impact on all our lives. Even in your passing, your message and your impact live on in each of your students.
**This post was originally published at http://5statehoops.com/2014/01/05/5-years-gone-a-lifetime-of-impact/ on January 5, 2014. This was the 5 year anniversary of Mr. Culp’s passing.