In the fall of 2000, I took an Advanced Placement European History class. I had no business taking this class, as my grades in history from the previous years were mediocre. However, the teacher, Mr. Galli, gave me a shot and issued a challenge: “You have a seat, but if I feel you aren’t taking it seriously, you are out.”
In the early weeks of the school year, I would often show up having not done the reading. Mr. Galli would always notice. He wouldn’t be angry but would instead register subtle disappointment while reminding me of how tenuous my seat was. Through that back and forth with a teacher who noticed, I fell into a groove.
That class of less than ten seniors was a key entry point into political debate. Mr. Galli had the good sense to recognize that, in an election year, students would be more interested in the changing face of current events than the history we were tasked to learn. During almost every class, he would save ten to fifteen minutes at the end end of class to debate politics. One student named Ruthie generally led the charge for George W. Bush while I advocated for Al Gore. I studied more in preparation for those debates than for the actual class material.
And Mr. Galli wasn’t just my history teacher; he taught me how to drive a car. I had a single mom who worked two jobs and who was thus unable to take me on the road. Mr. Galli ran a driving clinic after school that, even until this day, was one of the best examples of practice-based, hands-on learning I’ve experienced. Every now and then, when I check my blindspot or parallel park, I think of him.
But it isn’t just in the car that I continue to remember his mentorship. Eight years later, while working for then-Senator Obama’s presidential campaign, I would often reflect on how proud Mr. Galli would be if he could see me. In some ways, I was still trying to prove to him that I was worthy of that spot in his AP class.
Almost two presidential administrations have passed — and now I run schools. I am blessed with running an organization with over one hundred educators who, like Mr. Galli, pour their souls into their work. So, I want to thank Mr. Galli for showing me what great teaching is — and thank all of our RePublic teachers for reminding me of that standard every day.
You may not realize it now, but your students will carry you with them for the rest of their lives.