Teacher Appreciation Week: Bob Powers


As Mary announced on Monday, it's mental_floss Teacher Appreciation Week. As part of the festivities, we'll be honoring educators who personally inspired us. But not in a Joe Clark kind of way, where we'd likely be long dead without their intervention. No, we want to pay tribute to those who sparked our hunger for peripheral knowledge. Without this teacher, I may have turned out OK. But I wouldn't need to know how the Nintendo Zapper worked, or feel compelled to explore the seedy underworld of sugar packet collectors.

Bob "Mr." Powers is a science teacher at Morris Knolls High School in Denville, NJ. During an incredible run of scheduling luck, I had him three straight years for three different subjects.

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His classes always felt hand picked. All-star teams of funny, interesting, snarky adolescents. Much like High Fidelity (the Nick Hornby book, not the John Cusack movie), there was a decent plot ("learning chemistry") surrounded by piles of fascinating anecdotes.

I remember rearranging our desks to debate the ethics of cloning. We casually discussed the influence of Alan Greenspan and boned up on Ebola. We broke down the Chuck Wepner-Muhammad Ali fight, the one that inspired Rocky. He debunked the myths of college admissions, told stories of obscure World War II heroes, and gave a crash course in auto safety. A syllabus of the sidebar discussions would read like the mental_floss table of contents.

But Mr. Powers gave me more than a better grasp of the Fed. He made me want to read the papers, to have something to contribute. He made us look outside our school for knowledge, and offered a preview of college-style education. He taught less than any other teacher, and I learned more. And his star-studded classes were really no more studded than any others. But he brought out the best in his students. Or at least the most entertaining.

And I hardly recognize this picture. He used to rock a killer moustache.

Mr. Powers, we salute you. Now go inform your students how lucky they are.