My Favorite Teacher

Walt Hunter was a quiet man, slight and balding with a Great Plains accent. You might mark him as a teacher, but likely not the dynamic personality with a certain brashness that you would think of as a “favorite” teacher. He did not convince me to change my major from physics to chemistry even though he made me his chemistry lab assistant and spent untold hours talking with me about chemistry and teaching in his small office off my high school Chem lab. He did not convince me even though I learned to blow glass and enough chemistry to place out of two quarters of the first course at the University of Chicago. He did convince me to become a teacher.

I came across his name recently while searching my house for old letters, pictures, and documents. He had sent me a letter, while I was then a new teacher at our old high school, inviting me to come to Missouri to see him at Meramec Community College where he had become a dean of instruction. I never went. Instead I headed to Fort Lauderdale to stay in high school teaching and to my great good fortune to meet the woman who I would spend most of my life with.

So as our digital world calls us to do, I looked him up and found an article he published in 1971 called Self-Directed Learning at Meramec Community College. It was a short report on a program he had initiated. It was written in his plain style and tells an amazing story, for this program he developed some 50 years ago reverberates in our time. He argues for Universal Higher Education and for a system of education under the heading Modern Challenge in which:

“…college departments need to develop more learning modes, leading to individualized achievement of well defined objectives. Thus, the student can, with guidance, select objectives which are appropriate to his needs and learning modes which fit his learning style.”

He calls for “A New Kind of College”

“a college based on a new philosophy of student learning and achievement.” “…colleges will be able to make significant gains in the efficient and effective utilization of available talents, spaces and facilities. Students would be freed to pursue learning individually via the most appropriate pathway…colleges would become learning centers…”

You can see why I now think him my favorite teacher. Teach as he taught. I learned so much from him including the vision of learning as a laboratory science. I wonder what he would have imagined if he had the technology we have today. I wish I could tell him that his student is continuing to carry on his mission.