My Mentor, Mr. Sage

I was contacted by an author to contribute an essay to a book on influential teachers. No, I’m not one of the influential teachers; rather, I am writing about one of my influential teachers.

John Sage, my advanced 10th grade English teacher, impacted my life more than any other teacher I had. While a very good teacher, what I remember most about him has little to do with his lesson plans.

I was impressed by the way he approached his job. He was the best dressed teacher at Burroughs High School, always wearing a suit jacket, tie, and shiny shoes. His demeanor was proper; he was a gracious gentleman who loved literature.

When I was hospitalized at age 15 at UCLA’s Medical Center, he visited me twice, each time with a book as a present.

He took me to my first serious dramatic play, Jason Robards reprising his career-making role of Hickey in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh.”
After graduating high school, we kept in touch. When he retired to a condo in San Clemente, he’d invite me down for dinner. He was a wonderful gourmet cook. When he was in the mood, he would serenade me and other dinner guests with his piano playing and singing.
When I was considering teaching as a profession, he patiently listened to my pro and con arguments.
No matter how often I saw him socially, I could never call him by his first name. It’s like one’s mother or father — it’s always Mom and Dad.
Years ago I heard someone say that each of us is the sum of all the people we encounter in our lives. I am the type of teacher I am today mainly because of Mr. Sage. In fact, I dedicated my first book on teaching to him, even though he died months before its publication.
It’s hard for me to believe that right now I’m at the age that Mr. Sage was when I had him as a teacher. And soon I will retire, and hopefully continue receiving visits from former students, as I did with Mr. Sage. I hope I do justice to his memory by writing these words.

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