Less than a month ago, history teacher Eric Zwemer passed away after nearly three decades of teaching. His death caused immense grief and pain in our community and was followed by a period of deep reflection. His students thought about their last interactions with him. His colleagues remembered their last conversations. Those who didn’t know him well recalled his constant presence at the top of the hill, his suit and tie immaculate, with a cigarette in his hand.
The day after he passed, faculty members read student-written letters addressed to Zwemer at an all-school assembly. One could not help but imagine how much he would value hearing those words of appreciation, respect and admiration.
Zwemer exemplified the dedicated and engaged teacher. His lessons were incredibly well-prepared and brought into the context of current events.
He took pride in a commitment to learning and preferred not to focus on grades and was quick to prioritize content over studying for Advanced Placement Exams or other standardized tests.
The immense effort and passion he brought to his classes were clear to his students and colleagues. In light of his death, we should all take time to recognize the effort our teachers put into their courses.
Our teachers can make a lecture on the “factivity of art” become an exploration of how ideas can transcend their time.
Our teachers are willing to explain the intricacies of unsolvable proofs, and our teachers bring weavers to class to parallel themes from Moby Dick.
Our teachers can make original Latin versions of Ciscero come alive, engaging us in the vibrance of world language.
Our teachers will literally hammer their hand under a lead brick to demonstrate Newton’s Law of Inertia.
Our teachers devote their lives to bringing us outside of our academic shells, encouraging our growth, bolstering our voices and providing sacred spaces for discussion. They explain the unexplainable and inspire us to take risks and try new things.
Our teachers are the greatest vigilantes against ignorance we have, bringing context to the news and training us to be global citizens.
As a result of their efforts, we grow not only as students but also as human beings.
Genuine expression of appreciation is difficult. It requires us to put down our textbooks to take a moment to reflect on our teachers as humans who are dedicated to making us all better people. It takes looking beyond grades and values to look at teachers’ impact on who we are. Many alumni look back on their teachers fondly and thank them many years down the road. There’s no reason for us to wait.
We don’t know what will happen. What we can do is take every moment to show others that we appreciate and respect them. In a world in which our school is constantly in competition with others, we have an unfair advantage; Harvard-Westlake has some of the best people in the world. Smart, kind and passionate students. Dedicated, supportive and creative teachers who strive for greatness. Administrators who put immense thought into all of their decisions affecting our school. Maintenance and support staff who work long hours to silently and perfectly put together our school’s events.
Our teachers shape us as young adults and change us as humans. At the very least, they deserve some of our gratitude.
To all of our teachers: on behalf of the Chronicle, we thank you for your hard work.