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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Portrait of a Teacher as a Young Man

Charles (Chuck) Keller

He is the reason I am able to write this story.  My husband calls him the “best teacher he never actually had”.  Many of his other 4,000 students call him “Uncle Keller”.   But I guarantee you, every single one of them remembers him and if all were to comment on this article, the stories with which we’d be regaled would fill more pages than have been written at Walden Pond (Thoreau is, as a matter of fact, his favorite).  The man preceding the myth is, of course, Charles (Chuck) Keller- soon-to-be retired English Department Head and long-term teacher at Highlands High School.

Allow me to break decorum and refer to him throughout this story by his first name, Chuck, rather than the more formal journalistic last-name approach, my reason being that I consider him not only a mentor but a friend and inspiration.  Chuck began his teaching career 34 years ago working at Great Oaks Vocation School.  After two years there he switched to St. Henry High School.  Upon moving to Fort Thomas in 1988, he began his teaching career at Highlands High School where he would spend the next twenty-seven years until he recently decided to retire at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.  And to think, had he held out a short 16 more years my children could have experienced the pleasure of taking a class with Chuck.

And a pleasure it was.  I had Mr. Keller my junior year; I came to his class as one who never seemed to enjoy school.  Math was my nemesis but English was a close second.  He, more than any other teacher, was able to ignite in me that spark for lifelong learning that so many strive to achieve but so few actually do.  As unique an experience as that was for me, this was the effect he had on the majority of his 4,000 students.  Being the deferential man that he is, Chuck gives some of his credit for success to the students at Highlands, calling them (us) “different” in our thirst for knowledge. 

Though I would say it is due to years of Chuck’s planning and preparation for his teaching career.  Chuck decided in the 9th grade that he wanted to be an English teacher.  Therefore, at age 14, he set out to accomplish that goal.  He attended Thomas More College and then Northern Kentucky University for his Master’s degree.  The decision to attend NKU was purely financial as his GRE was “Harvard-worthy”, per a joking Keller.  At which point, Mary Lou laughed.

If you know Chuck, you know Mary Lou.  Mary Lou, his wife, has stood by him through all of his years of teaching.  She laughed through the happy times with him such as when he told me the story of buying pants.  He wore a brand new pair of slacks to school one day only to discover a hole in the front of them in a most inconvenient place.  He said he had to carry a book in front of his mid-section the entire day! 

Mary Lou howled like a member of Chuck’s band, Barney and the Howlers.  Chuck plays guitar and provides the vocals for this Jefferson Airplane-esque band (   Mary Lou is also one of the two defining characteristics of what makes a good life, per Chuck’s personal philosophy: “The two things that shape you as a person are 1) With whom you choose to share your life; and 2) what you decide to do”.  Mary Lou is the former, teaching the latter.

However, limiting the “whom” to Mary Lou would be a travesty as Chuck shared so much of himself with so many of us.  When asked how many Christmas cards he receives yearly, the response was a sideways look to Mary Lou and a smile.  When asked about the reach of his teaching, he recounts a time when he randomly ran into someone who knew a former student of his whilst hiking in Seattle, WA.  He has attended birthday parties, Christenings, played at students’ weddings, and even officiated them. 

However, of all the things he has accomplished and all the lives he has touched, one of the neatest, according to Chuck, is watching a former student come full circle.  “When you get to hire your former student and watch him now teach in the classroom next to you, that is really something”.

During retirement, Chuck will continue to play in his band given that music to him is “an addiction”.  He has not ruled out the possibility of teaching more in various capacities but he is looking forward to retiring.  Trust me and his 4,000 other students when we say that he has most certainly earned it.

What better way to end this article than with a quote from Henry David Thoreau from Walden: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”   Charles Chuck Keller taught we 4,000 students to see through his eyes, each other’s eyes, and the eyes of many an author. 

I can only hope in reading this article, he can see through my eyes to see how he looks to me.
Kellers third period class

1 comment:

  1. My son is in Mr. Keller's class this year and he also thinks he is a great teacher.