Wednesday, November 26, 2008

for skip

sometimes individuals are in your life for a relatively short season, although their presence impacts your life in a significant way. this week i learned that my most influential high school teacher, skip mohatt, passed away at the age of 74. skip taught, coached, reigned in, and commandeered my competition civics class.

my senior year at amador, i took a class called competition civics (or harley davidson civics or civics especial, depending on who is telling the story). upon explaining competition civics to him, my husband has completely missed the mark with, "so, it was basically debate class right? you were in debate." um, no. it was so not debate. it's kind of hard to explain the class in a succinct way, but i guess the best summary would be that our class was divided into 6 teams. the entire class was responsible for learning and familiarizing ourselves with the entire constitution and bill of rights. but then each 3 or 4 person team covered a unit of material covering a specific issue or portion of the material which became our area of expertise. i was on team six, which was responsible for knowing the 9th amendment and unenumerated rights backwards and forwards (so, we were all about school choice, abortion, health care, etc.) i'm realizing that it is a long, convoluted story to even summarize the entirety of what the class entailed, but basically we studied our butts off, studied supreme court cases, watched mcneil lehrer & read the paper daily for contemporary constitutional issues, prepared a billion hours for competitive presentations and question and answer sessions in front of lawyers, politicians, constitutional scholars. i know, it sounds nerdy and completely uninteresting. but it was amazing. i promise. it was stressful, and exhilarating, and super fun. our class won regionals, and then we went on to state and won state, and then went to nationals, and...came in fourth. sigh. we were totally ripped off.

skip is the reason that class was so great. (well, skip and the fact that half of my friends were in there.) he's the reason we were motivated to put so much energy into the constitution (of all things), and the reason i spent lots of saturdays at the library. (so sexy, i know.) well, that was maybe not the only reason, but i digress. he was a teacher who knew exactly how hard to push us, and then pushed us just a little bit more. i still remember the anxious feeling of waiting for a test to get passed back: he gave them back in order from lowest score to the highest. not so much fun if you hadn't studied the unit before the test; i always dreaded my name being called at the beginning of the pile. he had been an incredible basketball coach for years, and he treated us like a team - in both the good moments and the bad ones. he didn't mince words, and he didn't offer false words of encouragement. when we slacked, he let us hear about it in no uncertain terms. he was brutally honest, and he reduced more than one of us to tears that year. he taught us the power of the spoken word, the importance of editing one's argument, and the need to speak passionately and precisely. when we succeeded (even if that success did not mean we had won first place), he rallied, congratulated and celebrated with us. he put up with and even appreciated my dramatic, hyper, emotional 16 year old self. he challenged us to have pride, passion, perspicacity, and perseverance

i've been thinking a lot this week about that class, and about skip as a teacher and a man. i remember running into him about a year after i'd graduated. we were catching up, and i was telling him about how i was teaching elementary school and completely overwhelmed. i told him i had no clue what i was doing. he said, "i still don't know what i'm doing in the classroom. the minute you feel like you have it all together and you know exactly what you're doing is the minute you need to quit teaching." of course, he did know what he was doing in the classroom. he taught with passion, integrity, and great commitment. he taught us that the world was much bigger than, as he'd say, the "disneyland" where we lived. for all of his brusqueness, he was incredibly kind and gracious; he was one of those teachers that opens up your world. this entry doesn't feel very profound or elegant, but i am so thankful that i was able to know and learn from mr. mohatt - a short period of my life that has shaped me in a lasting way.

skip's passing makes me think of great hope about little m's life too. skip had polio as a child, which crippled him for life. his achievements as a coach, writer and educator, in a world which looks past disabled people, reminds me that my daughter, even though she is deaf, has the ability and capacity for amazing things. i know that in my gut when i think of little ms future, but it is a striking reminder to me.

thanks, skip. 


  1. wow, sooz. so sad to hear bout this. I feel like I know him because Danielle talked about him all the time. you honored him well

  2. Susannah, well put! He really was an inspiring and influential man!

  3. Susannah, well put! He really was an inspiring and influential man! Dee


Hi friends! This is where you talk back to me. :) Easy peasy: write your comment, then scroll down where it says "comment as" to identify yourself (if you want to just write your name click Name/URL or just click anonymous. xoxoxoxo