Ode to Werner Barth: Guest Post by Larry Hehn

Larry Hehn

Larry Hehn is my special guest blogger today. He is the brains behind Christian in the Rough, and I feel honored to be the Jewish girl he lets hang around the joint. As Larry says, “I encourage people to find fun in the middle of dysfunction, action at the end of distraction, and grace at the end of disgrace.” Every time Larry posts something I learn something new. I really wish I knew him in real life. Feel free to Twitter-stalk him at @LarryHehn.

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Ode to Werner Berth

Werner Barth was the best teacher I ever had. A wiry man with a spring in his step, a sparkle in his eye, a gravelly voice and a thick German accent, Barth had a tremendous effect on me. Strangely, it had nothing to do with the topic he was teaching.

Barth taught statics – defined in one dictionary as “The branch of physics that deals with physical systems in equilibrium, in which no bodies are in motion, and all forces are offset or counterbalanced by other forces.”

It was potentially one of the most boring subjects on earth.

But not with Barth as the teacher.

He loved to teach. And he loved his students.

He communicated ideas in ways that were fun and memorable.

One day, to illustrate the difference in direction between a positive bending moment and a negative bending moment, he stood on his chair and swung his hand up to his head. As he scratched his head, he said, “You can do this on the subway. That’s a positive bending moment.”

He then swung his hand down to his rear end. As he scratched, he said, “You can’t do this on the subway. That’s a negative bending moment.”

Twenty-five years later I still remember the difference.

What impressed me most, though, was his reaction when our entire class performed poorly on a test.

At that point he had been teaching for more than 25 years, longer than most of us in the class had been alive. But there was not an ounce of pride in Barth. At our next scheduled lesson, he pulled up a chair in the middle of the classroom, sat down and questioned us for an hour about how he could improve his teaching methods.

Even after years of learning, applying and teaching, he was still a student.

What I learned in that classroom had only a bit to do with statics, and a lot to do with a lifetime of learning, humility and working within your passion.

Sixteen years after leaving the program, I tracked him down and called him out of the blue to thank him. He remembered me. “Ah, Larry . . . skinny guy!” He remembered all of his students by name, and kept in touch with many of them.

He told me about his retirement 14 years earlier, his recent hiking trip, and how he had beaten colon cancer a few years ago. He spoke with a positive attitude and an appreciation for life that surpassed just about anyone I’ve ever known.

When I grow up, I want to be like him.

It has been eight years since that phone call. I’m sorry to say that I have again lost touch with Barth, but I know we’ll meet again. And when we do, I’m sure he’ll have a sparkle in his eye.

Can you recall a memorable lesson? Who was the teacher? What did he/she do?

• • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a piece for #TWITS: Teachers Who I Think Scored / Teachers Who I Think Sucked, write a specific memory about one teacher you had and explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction.

Essays should be around 700-800 words.

Interested but have questions? Email me!

My information is under the Contact Me tab.

NOTE: If you haven’t yet voted in the poll to determine which definition best fits for the word “castanurgle,” click HERE. The polls close on October 20, 2011 at 7 am EST.

19 responses to “Ode to Werner Barth: Guest Post by Larry Hehn

  1. Two keys to great teaching–make it interesting and visual, and seek authentic feedback from students as to whether instruction is effective or not. Enjoyed your memory of a top-notch teacher-thanks!

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  2. Hi Larry! Thank you for being here today to share your teacher memory.

    I remember in 12th grade my teacher, Mr. Wilson, cooked a hot dog without using any electricity. He just stuck in these two electrodes or magnets or something, and after a little while, the room started to smell like a ballpark. And then he stuck the hot dog in a bun, spread on a little mustard, and took a bite. It was totally cool. For a kid who didn’t care much about physics, he kind of got me interested right out of the shoot.

    He lost me at trajectory though. He should have built a trebuchet and shot me out the window. Perhaps I might have better understood the concept upon landing.😉

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  3. Hey Renee, a hot dog is a great idea! Our pastor showed us how to do that with a pickle last year. The cool part was that the pickle started to glow. The not-so-cool part was the smell! And, needless to say, nobody volunteered to eat it. Next time the hot dog wins out!

    Now, let’s talk about that trebuchet!😉

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  4. Great memory for you, Larry! Isn’t grand when someone of authority can admit to a problem, such as a class full of bad grades. It’s a sign of a great teacher, or person of strong integrity that will admit their fault and work to improve things.

    Barth is an example of the great teachers that we’ve all had and remember, and pray that our children will experience, as well.

    Great post and I look forward to following your blog; Renee speaks highly of you and that’s good enough for me!!

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  5. Wonderful words–I hope he reads them. There’s nothing like hearing all your hard work as a teacher inspired at least someone.🙂

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    • So true, Lorna. I’d like to see Barth again this side of heaven, though I’m not sure that it’s still possible. I’m so glad that I was able to call him after all those years to thank him.

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  6. I like the idea of discussing how he could better teach his class after poor test performance. Few too many teachers will take a moment to contemplate why their failure rate is so high. Of course if no one does the homework or even knows where their(neutral pronoun?) book is, it is not the teacher’s fault. So sometimes we must work on attitude before subject matter.

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    • Well said, Carl. In this case I believe that it was more of a student issue than a teacher issue. I think the care that he showed in that one session, both for the subject matter and for us, was a huge encouragement.

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  7. At our next scheduled lesson, he pulled up a chair in the middle of the classroom, sat down and questioned us for an hour about how he could improve his teaching methods.
    I love this. I see so many examples of people trying to pass off negative results as other peoples’ faults that I’m inspired when people not only consider but act on the idea that they might “own” a piece of that. This is the kind of lesson that really does stay with a student for a lifetime–much longer than most individual pieces of knowledge about statistics!

    Most of my memorable lessons have come from my brother-in-law. Our mutual friends couldn’t believe it for a long time, but underneath all that crassness is a lot of wisdom.🙂

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    • Your brother-in-law sounds like my best man, Deborah. For the first year I knew him I couldn’t stand him. But it’s amazing what depth people have when you take the time to experience and understand them.

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  8. He sounds like an amazing teacher! So many are the opposite; stuck in their ways and unbending (pun intended!). A positive attitude can go a long way!!!
    Great post~

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  9. Wow – I love the positive/negative bending example! What a fabulous teacher. I strive to be as humble when it comes to improving my writing, but I have a LONG way to go! Thanks for sharing this, Larry – I’m really glad you were able to talk to Werner so many years later.

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  10. That made me laugh out loud- yes it did. I had one college professor who made Botany so very entertaining. The pulp in oranges called out as ova, a tomato is a fruit- still with me now.

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