Pete Greene was one of those teachers that every kid who grows up in a small town needs to encounter -- he taught me to dream.

You see, Franklin, PA isn't a hub of international activity. In fact, by the time I reached high school, I was pretty much over it. There wasn't any real culture that I could see at the time, and beside my best friend Mike, not a lot of people who I felt much connection with. The horizons seemed so nearby, but I knew there was more out there.

Mr. Greene taught 11th grade honors English. I had spent most of my academic career unchallenged and uncaring, until I hit Mr. Greene's room; he proceeded to force me to think and argue and learn to express myself clearly. The half-assed work I had done before, coasting, wasn't enough. He was going to push me to discover what I could actually do when I put pen to paper.

Today, in addition to teaching, Mr. Greene writes a column for the local newspapers back in Franklin, which he thankfully archives on his blog. His most recent one, I'm gobsmacked to say, mentions me.

One benefit of teaching, particularly in a small town, is that you get to see your students grow up and become admirable, accomplished adults. Some become the good, solid citizens who keep the world spinning. That’s a great, honorable thing.

Some pursue something a little chancier, a little riskier, and it’s a great, proud thing when they find a measure of success. In the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded of four former Franklinites doing just that.

He then goes on to say some very nice things about me, and my career and writing that caused me to blush.

As I sit here thinking about it, I don't have any memory of a specific conversation with him about what was out there in the world outside of our little town, but there was something in his insistence that I could do more that made it crystal-clear to me that there was more -- to do, to see, to strive for. And so I did.

But there's something else that's hard to articulate. I wonder if what Mr. Greene does, or what Mike has done, is somehow the more noble endeavor. It's easy to move somewhere like New York or San Francisco and find like minded souls. It's another thing altogether to stay in an area like Venango County and work to educate, to inform, to improve. Building that community, that's the hard part, and it leaves me in awe of them.

I've been lucky enough in my life to get to places, personally and professionally, that thrill and excite me, that I'm proud of. And part of me wonders if that would have been the case without Mr. Greene. I don't know how to repay that sort of debt, so I'm left with saying, simply: Thank you.

AuthorMark McClusky