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Tough teachers impart lasting lessons

Before you read this article, grab a pen and a piece of paper.

OK, here’s the assignment: Write a story about the most influential person in your life outside of your immediate family.

By “influential” I mean a person from your past or present who was instrumental in shaping you into the person you are today.

In case you are having trouble, please allow me to share my answer as an ice breaker.

My most influential person had no idea at the time that he would eventually make a mark on me.

Sadly, neither did I.

Looking back, though, I see it with a clarity that is crystal clear. He made an impact on me because he cared. It really is that simple.

This individual chose a profession with minimal pay and maximum headaches because he had something to share with know-it-alls like me. He had a passion for giving away what he had spent years acquiring.

And it’s that single word, “passion,” that makes this person stand out in my mind.

In my 18 years of education, culminating in a master’s degree, this man was the most influential teacher I ever had the pleasure of meeting.

His dedication to his job and determination to share his wisdom with all of his pupils, whether they wanted it or not, is still fresh in my mind more than two decades later.

His name is Bob Leith.

Mr. Leith was an English and world history teacher at Ironton High School when I attended the school from 1982-1986. He had a reputation among the student body as a tough nut who demanded a bunch of work out of his pupils.

So, needless to say, I was sick to my stomach when I looked at my schedule at the beginning of my sophomore year.

When I saw the name “Leith” next to “3rd Period” I remember dropping my arms and muttering one of the words that got Ralphie Parker a soap sandwich in the movie A Christmas Story. My entire year was instantly ruined.

But the worst was yet to come. When I lifted that schedule back within eyesight, a numbing chill ran through my bones. Instantly, I considered dropping out.

Next to “4th Period” was the exact same name: “Leith.”

I got Leithed back-to-back; English and world history.


True to his reputation, Mr. Leith was indeed a tough instructor. There were no matching or multiple choice tests in his world history classes; every exam was in essay format, taken from his lectures.

English class wasn’t any better. As a matter of fact, I’m certain that he has already circled at least five grammatical errors in this article.

I hated this man!

He demanded that I learn when all I wanted to do was get by.

Now, having the gift of hindsight, I finally see in myself what he saw so many years ago.

And I’m very thankful.

Few people have ever intimidated me as Bob Leith did and continues to do. If his intelligence could be seen in physical form, Atlas would cower in shame.

With age and its accompanying wisdom, I’ve mellowed on my views of life. I’ve learned many things from experience. Old ways of thinking have long since been replaced.

But, speaking of old ways of thinking, I go back to that teenage boy who was so upset to have Bob Leith as a teacher. I laugh at that boy now.

People who truly influence your life are rare.

And “rare” truly describes Bob Leith.

Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at hollandkat3@aol.com.