How could such a happy name inspire so much fear? Throughout the school, this name was dreaded, feared, cursed, and abused. At the beginning of the school year, there would always be a student weeping with hatred, crying out against his crazed science teacher, Mr. Joy. People thought of him as the embodiment of all evil possible in a teacher, a heartless dictator, a cruel old man. When he walked by, he often got stares, and whispers of “Hitler” behind his back. On that hot languid September morning, I sat in stony silence at my desk, hearing the warnings of upperclassmen echoing in my ears, waiting for Mr. Joy to appear.
As he walked in, I breathed a temporary sigh of relief. At least I am taller than him! A short wiry man with an almost military gait marched into the room. The hair on his slightly balding head was thoroughly brushed back, his clothes impeccably starched, and his shoes polished so well you could see your own reflection in them. His face seemed hardened by time and experience; he looked bitter, even a little sad. But the most striking feature about his face was his eyes: they seemed to shine with a fierce passion, a burning desire, but for what?
As he talked to us about the extensive course requirements, his high expectations, and the heavy workload, we all fidgeted with nervousness in our seats. He spoke with a grim sense of determination, and we listened with a sense of impending doom. But then, suddenly, his voice changed, and his eyes glowed with more intensity than ever before. He told us about his love for biology, and how much he wished that he could impart it to us. He told us about the beauty of the complexity of life in every organism from a delicate butterfly to a steadfast giant sequoia. He was so excited about the recent developments in molecular biology and genetics, but his enthusiasm seemed sincere and real: it wasn’t just the over-caffeinated perkiness of a cheerful kindergarten teacher; it was a genuine love for learning and discovery.
The assignments were long and difficult: in the first week itself we were required to memorize the entire periodic table and recite it to the class. Day after day, week after week, students faltered in class, and they were embarrassed: it seemed worse because he didn’t yell; he simply stared at you sternly yet sadly, and calmly called on the next person. But this work that I cursed and blamed and almost cried over helped me cultivate great study habits, and an even greater respect for this little old man and his “cruel” teaching ways. Before all of our tests, we ironically hummed “Ode to Joy” as a little good luck charm. When our class aced the midterm exams, we couldn’t be more grateful to him for having prepared us so well, but he refused to be held responsible for our excellent grades. “I’m just giving you the tools, I’m happy that you’re using them,” he said humbly.
His moral lessons to me were just as strong: he was more than a teacher to me; he was a mentor. Whenever something was wrong, or I felt down or depressed, he’d understand, and look at me firmly and say, “Meet me after class.” I trusted him impeccably, and he trusted me too, until one day when I broke this trust, by copying a single homework assignment from a friend. Immediately he could tell that the work had been copied, and he sent for me in his study. There he explained how he was not angry, but sorely disappointed in my dishonesty. His words made me regret my action so much that I vowed never to be deceptive or cheat again at school, or in my personal life.
But as the year wore on, the light in his eyes seemed to fade; we all wondered what was wrong, until one day, Mr. Joy was diagnosed with cancer. Yet he came to school every single day, and only attended his chemotherapy sessions after our biology class. We were his first priority, even in his struggle against life itself. He passed away last summer, but the lessons he taught me still live on. I learned how to love learning not for grades, but for the sake of knowledge, and how to develop invaluable study habits. I discovered how to be determined and push on, even in the toughest of situations, and how to be sincere and honest in whatever I do. And of course, now I never judge people hastily, for “Hitler” truly brought joy into my life.