Mr. Peight: The Teacher Who Taught Me To Think

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” -Henry Brooke Adams

This post is a tribute to my teacher. Hopefully my punctuation won’t put his investment to shame.

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Don’t look, but that’s me to the left. I was a sheltered home school kid when I first attended private Mennonite school. The only word I can think to describe that first year is “anxiety.” I felt like the odd one out in so many ways. I was socially handicapped, academically behind, and athletically challenged.

I was lost in a busy social arena. The world looked so big, my peers so intimidating, and each new experience felt like a personal humiliation circus. My life experience level was low in almost every way, and everything I feared starred at my face daily. I cried myself to sleep those first several nights.

The anxiety of being thrust into a new game or sport at recess time nauseated me to the point that I couldn’t eat my lunch. I would swallow to keep gag reflexes at bay and stuff my half eaten sandwich back in my lunch box, hands icy cold. The other kids seemed so carefree and full of life, chowing down on their meals, while I guzzled chocolate milk to make myself feel full. It was was in full blown survival mode. Those early days of anxiety and low self esteem started me down an anorexic lifestyle that lasted for several years.

By now, you probably have the impression that school is one big, awful memory, but hang in there. It got better.

I don’t know how much of my struggle and process my teacher and peers were aware of, but I felt more excited and prepared going into my second year at private school. I had grown in confidence and had much more experience under by belt- enough to keep anxiety sporadic, instead of a daily battle. I also had a close girlfriend by year two.

I was taught by the same teacher three years in a row, and I’m grateful. I feel like the consistency year after year helped me find stability- not just in my education, but in non academic ways as well.

Let me introduce you to Gabriel Peight- known to his students as, “Mr. Peight.”

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This is how I remember him.

At first impression, Mr. Peight seemed rather severe and unemotional, yet no day passed without a smile. His main priority seemed to be order and intense academics in the beginning, but each day became a building block for trust and relationship, whether we students comprehended it or not.

I remember the moment a shift happened in the process. The first year, I was a grade behind my peers in arithmetic. The anxiety was already intense, and I couldn’t bear the humiliation of failing to comprehend my lessons. So I cheated on my math homework. When the guilt ate me away, I finally wrote my teacher a letter, asking for forgiveness. His response has stayed with me to this day.

“I’m just glad you learned as much as you did.” That was the moment I realized that my teacher cared more about long term impact than my temporary performance, and that was the moment Mr. Peight earned my respect and trust.

I became rather fond of my teacher, to the point that I no longer loathed his constructive criticism. I began to thrive on feedback, largely because I no longer feared that my failure would alter his approval of me.

Looking back, the process makes perfect sense, and I still benefit from all that was invested in me over the course of three short years. Honestly, sometimes I wish I could go back. I have a lot of good memories.

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I can’t say I enjoyed it when he made me do math problems on the chalk board, but I can overlook that temporary humiliation. After all, in eighth grade, I did win that spelling bee against all the parents and students. A sweet moment of victory. 🙂

Mr Peight was never haphazard about his job. Each morning, the environment was set by the time the students arrived, and everything was in order. We were greeted with a crisp, “Good morning,” and a smile. I knew he had already been up for hours preparing. In fact, I don’t remember him ever teaching a class unprepared. If he did, it didn’t show.

I liken Mr. Peight’s mind to the sharpness of a whip. His intelligence baffles me to this day. It always seemed like he knew everything and had a solution or insight for every problem. If by chance, he didn’t know, he would study until he figured it out.

“We do not have to compare our achievements with those of others. We only need to ask ourselves one question: Have I given my best?” Ben Carson

The amazing thing about my teacher’s success is that his intelligence wasn’t due to an infant, fairy dust sprinkling. His success was a result of hard word, long hours, and applying his mind to the task at hand. As his student, I was aware of that.

I remember this pep talk: Humans have access to much more brain capacity than most utilize in their lifetime. He lived it, and he encouraged his students to do the same. I never felt like he required anything from me that he wouldn’t do himself. So in moments when my brain hurt from being stretched, I knew it wasn’t fatal.

From his perspective, we students were probably hormonal, immature young adults, but he treated us as equals- capable of making informed and intelligent choices. His treatment of us was accepting, yet growing. If growth wasn’t a desire for personal reasons in the beginning, I applied myself- if for no other reason than to make my teacher proud. Eventually, the vision expanded, but it was a good start.

You know how kids are; we complained that we never played fun games at break time, when we weren’t allowed to use the restroom or get a drink in an “emergency,” and when questions weren’t answered promptly enough. Because obviously teens have so many obligations: things to do, places to go, people to see. 🙂

Every kid has used the argument that algebra will not be of use in adult life, but Mr. Peight had a way of creating relevance for each obstacle we faced. However, I can’t say that I have used algebra since high school. 😉 Well, maybe once.

Of course it came more naturally to focus on being free of responsibility for the next fun event than to invest in anything long term, but Mr. Peight taught us by example the value of investment.

I am not sure how he juggled all his responsibilities, but somehow he had enough energy for his own growing family as well as his school students.

During his teaching years, Mr Peight also worked as an EMT. We students had the privilege of gleaning from his expertise on some first aid and cpr.

After his teaching years, Gabe went to school himself. Today, he is a graduated and working RN. He and his wife have five children.

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I don’t feel like I always chase my dreams to my full capacity, but I feel like I was given the tools necessary to overcome obstacles and pursue success.

“By Thinking Big, we can transform the world.” -Ben Carson

Mr Peight didn’t just teach academics; He took responsibility to care for our souls when we were in his classroom. He seemed to understand the connections between the spirit, mind, soul, and emotions. He genuinely cared when his students went through hard times.

As I laid the notes and birthday cards from my teacher out in chronological order, I noticed a pattern. First, the theme was potential, forgiveness for wrongs, and uplifting encouragement. Over time, the theme involved constructive criticism, growth, and praise for improvement.

Words were a language I understood, so you can imagine how much notes of encouragement from my teacher meant to me. Although I don’t remember all the words Mr. Peight spoke into my life, looking back over some of them, I am amazed how on point they are, relating to all I have discovered about God’s design for my life since then.

I feel like my teacher planted seeds of purpose into my giftings and prophesied into my identity, long before the evidence manifested and the pieces came together in the future.

Here are some of the words that have permanently impacted my life and set me on a path towards purpose and success.

Random note- October 9, 2007

I really appreciate your participation in class, your desire to learn, and your willingness to be real. I see a great deal of maturity in your attitude about school. You seem to be able to see beyond the present to how school will effect the rest of your life. God has big things in store for you. You might even be a teacher!

Sincerely, Mr. Peight

Written teacher response after cheating episode November 12, 2007 

..I understand how you felt last year; nobody really enjoys being thought of as stupid and ignorant. Really, I guess that’s why we shouldn’t be afraid to ask when we don’t understand. 🙂 By all means I forgive you for consulting the answer key instead of your teacher; I am just glad you learned as much as you did.

My job has lots of rewards. One very special one is being able to work with fresh, young lives, seeing them grow up and struggling with issues, watching them make right choices, and beholding their changed and improved character. It is very special to witness this wonderful work of God. I can see the touch of God in your life.

April 11, 2008

The Lord is a strong tower of safety when the enemy comes against us; He is like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings during a thunderstorm; He is an author, writing a story with your life.

I care about the hard things you have had to go through, and the things you are dealing with right now.

In all of the notes I received, the broad brush stokes were acceptance and purpose; the rare “criticisms” were minor details so cushioned by acceptance that the sting was removed. It was encouraging guidance built on praise of strengths. See below:

I also wanted to say something about you and ____ (close friend) I know you have a lot in common. I don’t have any problem with that of course. I just suggest that you work extra hard to include ____ (school mate) in your lives-especially in school.

…Live selflessly is my encouragement.

I can positively guarantee one thing. If you unreservedly allow God to write your story, your life will be a classic- enduring many generations to inspire, bless, and encourage the characters your life touches.

School term end- May 9, 2008

Very well done in seventh grade. Congratulations! You’ve worked really hard and I’m proud of you.

I pray that the things you’ve learned this year will help you understand the world around you better. May they help you think, reason, and communicate more effectively. May they grow to provide you with the tools you need to be all God has in mind for you.

…Dare to practice your talents. Don’t let the fear of imperfection paralyze you.

Remember, “Failure is just an opportunity to begin again- more intelligently this time. Henry Ford

Fourteeth birthday- December 18, 2008

I wish you the richest blessings as your pursue your dreams. May the Spirit of God light your way with a beacon leading you to fullness in Him.

Don’t believe anything but the Truth!

Positive feedback- December 23, 2008

You have a lot of potential as an author- that is, potential to influence generations long after you are in the grave.

Your cheerfulness is contageous. You’re learning to laugh at your mistakes. You work hard at what is important.

You are a great friend. You are creative and funny and smart.

You constantly remind me of the serious things of life.

You care what others around you think.

You are a fun person to talk to and laugh with.

To this day, I am in the process of finding laughter and lightheartedness among the deep, serious things that guide my life.

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I am forever grateful for the investment this man made in my life. He wasn’t perfect, but he did his best. He taught me how to think intelligently about the world. Now I see how desperately I needed that stability as I entered adulthood without the input of my Dad.

Mr. Peight taught me to always approach issues with a question mark. What can I learn? What can be done? How can I improve? When discussing short stories, we left the conclusion open ended- always open to new insight.

My teacher was the first person to give wings to my love of writing, while teaching me practical tools to improve and edit my work. I’m grateful I sat through the drudgery of parliamentary procedure and battled over intense reading like Dickens.

I overcame an incredible amount of fear in three years. Although I credit most of that to God’s love, I recognize my teacher’s influence as well. I was terrified to speak in front of a crowd, but in 2009, in spoke in front of a large crowd for the first time. I gave a presentation on a selected country as well as a graduation speech. I expected to be frozen on stage, but when I got up the steps and turned around, peace flowed through me like liquid, from my head to my toes.

I looked out over the familiar faces and strangers in the audience, and instead of feeling terrified, I felt calm and powerful. I remember feeling awed by the fact that I had everyone’s attention- that I had the opportunity to teach and share my thoughts with them for a few moments.

Oh my goodness. These guys are in the palm of my hand. Dude, I was born for this. Let’s go! 🙂

That was the day, I discovered that words, teaching, and public speaking make me come alive for a reason.

May 15, 2009

This last note came on the inside page of my eighth grade graduation gift- the book, Think Big by Ben Carson.

Congratulations on finishing eight years of formal education! It has been good having you in my class again this year- watching you learn and grow- hopefully helping a little bit along the way.

…I want to wish you the very best God can think up this summer and ’till the end of your days!

I really hope you enjoy this book! It was inspirational for me, and I thought about you the whole way through. 🙂 You have a lot of potential for excellence. May God show you how to “think big” for Him.

Mr. Peight, thank you seeing my potential and pulling it out of me. Thank you for teaching me to think. I am forever grateful.

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4 thoughts on “Mr. Peight: The Teacher Who Taught Me To Think

  1. Of course, I loved reading this, because I am so proud of him. 🙂 I saw him out the door many mornings at the crack of dawn because he wanted to be prepared. And I watched him spend hours on those notes for his students. It’s nice you kept them. I had adults who affirmed me in my life in similar ways when I was a teen, and this is a good reminder to me to pass it on. Thanks for writing this. 🙂

    Like

  2. Pingback: School-ish Thoughts | wocketinmypocket

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