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John Eggers: How great college teachers and gun control issue relate

First I am going to remind college students what they should expect in their college/university teachers and then I am going to identify a better solution to the gun issue than, let’s say, getting rid of guns.

My readers frequently ask me “Where do you get your ideas?” Although my wife would never admit it, I try to be a listener. Here’s an example. I received a phone call on New Year’s Eve from my former boss at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls and after speaking with him I had my column written.

Talking to Dr. Raymond Kuehl made my day. I should have been the one calling him. But that’s just the kind of man he is, which explains why he is such an outstanding educator and, more importantly, human being.

Some of you may remember an old Gillette razor blade slogan that was “Look sharp! Feel sharp! Be sharp!” I can never remember Ray when he didn’t look sharp. He always acted sharp and from my perspective, he was very sharp about how he directed the university’s student teacher program. He always went the extra mile and he expected his staff to do the same.

Kuehl has been a mentor of mine ever since I joined the UNI faculty in 1976. I went on to be principal at Red Lake High School in 1985 and Ray retired in 1988 with Emeritus status. We corresponded with each other around the holidays and a few years ago I visited him and his wife, Fran, at their home in Cedar Falls.

Although he was in his upper 80’s, he was still the same – he looked sharp and he acted sharp. When I think of outstanding university professors/college teachers, I think of Dr. Kuehl.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; religion without sacrifice; politics without principle; science without humanity; business without ethics.”

That is Dr. Kuehl. There is no better word to describe him than “integrity.” He did what was right and he tried to treat everyone fairly and honestly. He is a man of impeccable integrity.

As our college students return to their classrooms after the winter break, they have the opportunity to be face to face with many outstanding university and college faculty. I hope each of those students has the opportunity to be in the presence of someone who exudes what it means to be a university professor.

I have the privilege to teach a class in interpersonal communication at Northwest Technical College this semester. I am looking forward to it. The first assignment I am going to give my students is for them to tell me what they expect from me as their teacher. After all, they’re footing the bill. They hired me to teach them something that will help them get a job and while on the job to do it better than anyone else.

This is an awesome responsibility. Learning from Kuehl helped prepare me for the task.

Kuehl always had the interests of the student in mind. He knew their future livelihood was dependent upon how they did as a student teacher and he worked hard to make sure they had the best experience possible. This is why his staff lived in the communities where the student teachers were placed as opposed to the staff being on campus, which is typical of most universities.

You are probably wondering what all of this has to do with finding a better solution to the gun issue. I was fortunate to have some outstanding mentors over the years and Kuehl, next to my parents, was at the top of the list.

All of you can name important people that guided you through life’s travails. This is why you are successful. This is why your life has meaning. Most of those young people who commit horrific crimes like the Newtown shooting, can name few people, if any, who are mentors, guiders and teachers in their life.

There are many efforts going on throughout the United States including right here in Bemidji (e.g. Students First), which have the goal of finding mentors for young people.

These are wonderful initiatives but in the words of President Obama, “We can do more.”

I never felt that Kuehl was entirely satisfied with the student teacher program at UNI in spite of its successes in helping students become better teachers and in finding jobs, it was my feeling that he felt “We can do more.” Because of that I know I certainly tried to do more and do it better.

Whether it is finding mentors for young people or working harder to help our college students, we can all heed the advice, “We can do more.” And, as Kuehl would add, “We can do it better.”

JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.