I don’t know why I have been thinking about my high school biology teacher lately.

It might be because I am still thinking about being a teacher. I think that it might be because I see the glint of oncoming headlights of a post-doctoral position. I don’t know if I could exclusively do academic research for the rest of my life, but if I could teach, I could regard lab-work and writing grants as a necessary evil.

It might be because I have recently gotten a minion. Graduate students aren’t supposed to have technicians. Some do, but I prefer to do all of my work (at least within reason). The new technician happens to be working on something that has to do with my project that I have told my advisor in no uncertain terms that I would not do. Because she is a newbie, I have to show her stuff: Restriction digests, cloning, how to keep a real lab notebook. She comes to me after meeting with the boss so that we can discuss the ‘science’ behind what he wants her to do. I think that this might be the part of the day that I like the most. She is really interested in what I am doing. I wonder if Mr. Mateka felt that way with us.

As freshman, he was my Biology 1 teacher. He was a big guy, late 50s, grey hair. He was muscular, so much so that he had the sleeves of his short sleeve dress shirts slit open and then hemmed to fit over his biceps. He had the air of a 1950’s bad boy that went good. He had sort of a soft-spoken Bob Ross voice, and the catch phrases to match. When he would request the lights to be dimmed, he would look at Eve and say : contrast. When some sort of 14-year-old drama was ensuing it was always: Days of our Lives. Personal affectations aside, he would thrill me with his teaching.

He always lectured like he was letting you in on a secret. He would tell us stories about when he was in college, and they would grow heart cells in a flask, and eventually they would start to twitch. He would mention about how he went to college and he was just some kid from Appalachia (we were inner city kids). He made me excited about dissecting a frog, which I was dreading because I had done it before.

Don’t let some animal activist tell you that high school students just hack into the animals. We spent 2 months with our frog. Mine was named Amadeus. Ever scrap of muscle had to be accounted for. We had to be able to take apart the digestive system as one piece. Slides had to be made for each type of tissue. Biomorphic measurements had to be taken. It was intense. None of us minded.

In addition to being a great teacher, he was a pretty cool guy to be around. A few of us would play practical jokes on him, and he never got upset. We once hid all of the books in the room, over 500 of them. As the years went on, his name even got shortened like you do with a friend; Mateka, Matek, Teaka, Teak, and finally T.

I had Mr. Mateka for Biology 2 my junior year. My senior year I gave up my lunch to be his lab assistant. I remember him being absent a lot that year; I think that his mom was sick and then passed. His sub was a social studies teacher, so I, by default, supervised the Biology 2 pig dissection lab. I think that during that time was when I decided that this is what I could do for the rest of my life. This was 10 years ago and I still remember this.

How did I end up pursuing graduate studies in microbiology? He taught us about bacteriophages freshman year.

T…whatever your doing now I hope that you know that you were my inspiration.

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