Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Finding the guru

Sabine seemed concerned as we left for the recent Open House at LCHS. “Daddy! Don’t embarrass me!”

After 13 years of fatherhood, I’m now an embarrassment. It’s a reputation that’s most deserved.

We arrived on campus and found a kaleidoscope of muses and soothsayers. It was a surreal world defined by silent statues of kids who came alive by an awkward prompt and proceeded to recite the prose and thoughts of history’s illustrious thinkers.

Open House afforded me the opportunity to ascribe a face to the teachers my children continuously speak of. I have a deep reverence for teachers. The phase “You're the wind beneath my wings,” most assuredly reflects the influence of a teacher. Teachers are critical to society. Their efforts affect the fate of the world, which is influenced by the children who sit in their classrooms. We never know where this influence will stop.

Teaching is an art and occurs through mindful intention. It’s the result of skillful execution, sincere effort, intelligent direction, high intention and sincere effort. Teaching is not melodramatic delivery, but rather is defined by a teacher's moral investment of concern and loving delight. The alchemy of these interventions can often change a life.

It’s the teacher who helps students realize their promise and where that promise lies. A teacher believes in you and tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick.

What speaks to me regarding teaching is the opportunity to leave a remnant of oneself in the development of another. Whether it’s a smile, a favorite witticism or a stern rebuke, effective teachers leave a vestige of their ways on the blank slates of their students. There’s an old Buddhist Proverb, “When the student is ready, the master appears.”

I am moved by the influence that Mr. Morgan Savage, Simone’s seventh-grade math teache, has recently had upon her moral development. Because of a series of misconducts, Mr. Savage confronted his class with an extemporaneous discourse regarding appropriate behavior, which he defined as having a moral compass. Simone returned from school that evening and quoted him verbatim. He touched a chord within her.

As I listened to Mr. Savage’s words, spoken by Simone, I recalled Plato’s insistence that it is the responsibility of the community to instill reverence into the souls of youth. Socrates asserts in his dialogues that teachers must find a balance between cognitive and moral development. Developing reverence in children is a responsibility delegated to all of us.

Reverence is an ancient virtue that barely survives and exists in half-forgotten forms of civility. Reverence teaches us to appreciate, acknowledge and respect the world around us and ourselves. It keeps us humble and in sync with the ebb and flow of life as it tempers our ego.

Reverence is not something that you turn on or off depending on the situation. You either have it or you don’t. You either are reverent or you aren’t. Without reverence we have little commitment to society, and we seldom give a higher authority a second glance. Without reverence we don’t know how to respect each other and ourselves. Without reverence we wouldn’t even know how to learn reverence.

Throughout my educational development, I’ve had many inspiring teachers and I remember them all. Each has carved his or her influence upon my soul.

Oscar Wilde tells us, “We have in life one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible.”

That’s what teachers do; they find that teachable moment and subsequently change a life. Simone found a guru, but many more await discovery. I hope she knows this!

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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