Thoughts from Dr. Joe: A teacher’s influence is boundless

Typically, my focus is not malleable. Not even a 122-millimeter rocket attack can divert my attention from a task at hand. However, when I saw them enter, I dog-eared the page I was reading in "Shackleton's Whiskey."

I was engrossed in the vivid account of Ernest Shackleton's 1907 Antarctic Expedition and the cases of Mackinlay's single malt whiskey that he left behind. Although "Shackleton's Whiskey" is an incredible tale of Antarctica, malt whiskey and survival, I placed the book on the counter and painted my happiest face.


As they sauntered toward the bar, they were like rock stars. However, what made their entrance more appealing was that they seemed unaware of the extraordinary effect they've had on several generations. Their influence is akin to tossing a pebble into a slow, meandering river. The concentric circles that emanate from the initial point of contact have a defined beginning yet we are unable to discern when the inertia ceases.

A teacher affects eternity, you never know when their influence stops.

Annette Fuelling, Karen Gilmour, Laurie Hopkins and Sue Fuelling, teachers at La Cañada Elementary, waited for their coffee orders. Since I was sitting in a corner, they hadn't noticed me. I ventured from my seat and gave these four iconic teachers a big hello.

There's no word that I revere more than "teacher." In a completely rational society, a teacher would have the most acclaim and be afforded the most reward. Teaching is an art and doesn't happen by accident. It's the result of high intention, sincere effort, and is a moral investment of concern. Exceptional teachers touch human feelings. They assist their students in discovery and awaken their curiosity. It's the teacher who helps students realize their promise and where that promise lies. A good teacher believes in you and tugs, pushes and leads you on to the next plateau in life.

I understand both the significance and contribution of these remarkable women. I was elated to be in their presence. As they waited for their coffees, we spoke. "You guy are rock stars," I said. "Starbucks should have comped you." They didn't understand my comment, and I was convinced they didn't understand the great importance of their contributions to the many kids who have cycled through their respective classes over the years.

I was an elementary student a long time ago, when Christ was a corporal. However, I still remember my grade school teachers. I can account for a special connection that I made with each of my teachers, from Sister Mary Patrick's first-grade class to Sister Mary Delores' eighth-grade class. Each of them gave an experience, a word, a scolding or a gentle touch that have had either a direct or subliminal influence upon who I am today.

I wanted to thank the ladies for what they continuously do for our children, but the teachers were on a morning power walk; thus, they grabbed their coffees and disappeared into an early La Cañada morning. That's very true about teachers — they come into and out of our lives quickly.

I picked up "Shackleton's Whiskey" and again felt the icy seas of his Antarctic expedition. In 1907 25 cases (300 bottles) of Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey were loaded onto his ship, the Nimrod. A hundred years later, three of those cases were found buried in the ice beneath Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds in the McMurdo Sound of Antarctica.

"Shackleton's Whiskey" has become iconic and was a simple thread in a remarkable story of a remarkable man. I saw the connection between Anette Fuelling, Karen Gilmour, Lorie Hopkins and Sue Fuelling, all iconic individuals whose influence has no end.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at