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By Lindsay Kriz
KPA Summer Intern
Eight years ago I was sitting in my seventh grade science class listening to my teacher lecture, when a man randomly opened the classroom door and popped his head in. He was smiling, like he knew something none of us kids did, and he seemed excited to tell us all something. My teacher introduced him as Mr. McKee, and told us that we’d be lucky if we had him as a teacher in eighth grade, since our middle school had “teams,” and he only taught on one. And as our teacher gave him praise, he just smiled and told us that we’d be lucky if we didn’t have him as a teacher, and then proceeded to tell us a weird story.
Another time, Mr. McKee popped his head in and shared a joke with us. Embarrassingly enough, I was the only one who got it. I burst into loud, choking laughter in front of everyone, and Mr. McKee turned to look at me. “See? Someone gets it,” he said, grinning. After that encounter I was sure what he had said before was wrong, and that having him as my teacher would be completely awesome. In retrospect, having him as a teacher made me blessed. As I had predicted, I got his team for eighth grade, and when my mom called me to tell me the news, I told her that I wasn’t surprised, because I knew I was supposed to have Mr. McKee as my teacher. I hadn’t even had him yet, and already he was my favorite.
The rest of my memories with Mr. McKee are blurry, but the ones that remain are ones I hope to never forget. In general, I remember loving him from the very first day he poked his head into our classroom. He had a unique sense of humor, and, as I said, he would always crack jokes that no one but me seemed to get. When I would snort and put my hand over my mouth, he would grin at me, with a sort of gleam in his eyes, and say, “See? Ms. Kriz gets it!”
His teaching style was never conventional. On some days, he would sit in the middle of the classroom and have each student read one word from the chapter we were assigned for the entire hour. He lit a book on fire at the beginning of every semester as part of a demonstration, and one day he threw a tapeworm at the white board, proclaiming that we didn’t “have time” in the hour to look at it any more. He would make us watch Carl Sagan videos on outer space, and announce it to us by saying, “Today, class, we’re visiting our good friend Carl.” Half the class groaned, but I loved it all, and absorbed as much as I could.
While Mr. McKee had a great way of teaching science, his class was never just about the basics. He wanted to teach us life lessons as well. One day, we were taking notes over some scientific formula, when Mr. McKee stopped writing on the board and said, “We’re gonna watch the Elephant Man.” We were all taken aback by his sudden change of plans, but I didn’t question it. I’d heard of the Elephant Man and wanted to see what the film was about, and I could tell that Mr. McKee would somehow make it relevant to the lesson. By the end of the movie I was a tearful mess, and Mr. McKee made his spot as my favorite teachers, and people, permanent. To this day, no high school teacher or college professor has been able to take that spot.
When I first learned that he had died on May 9, I was shocked, and sad, but it didn’t really hit me until a couple days later, when I realized I hadn’t seen him in two years. He was my favorite teacher, and yet I’d failed to make any contact with him beyond a few Facebook posts. I found two old emails between us, where he told me he missed me, and invited me to see his Beatles collection. I broke down when I realized that I’d never taken him up on his offer, and that I missed him, too. And I still do. His memory has been on my mind for the past month, and I don’t anticipate it’ll leave any time soon. Luckily, I redeemed myself by visiting his house last Sunday, where I got a glimpse of his infamous collection and a glimpse into who he was as a person. And I can honestly tell you that, while we hadn’t been close in a while, he will continue to be one of my favorite teachers, both of life and school, forever.