Jerry Pierce: A teacher who changed my life

Teaching can be an odd thing.

You spend more time with a child, or young adult than you do with your own family. Whether it be in class, sponsoring a club, coaching, going to sporting events, etc., sometimes those boys and girls, men and women, are with you more your own blood, your own kin, those you call family.

You form connections and can make an impact, both fair and foul, on their lives. And they too on yours.

And then they move on, and we all forget.

Oh sure, there are those students you remember, maybe a handful over the course of a career. And oh sure, there are some teachers we remember even as marriages and births and life’s ups and downs come our way. But by and large, we forget, the teacher and the student alike.

I remember a few teachers. Mrs. Sumrall from second grade. Mrs. Waits from seventh. Mr. Waits from math class. Mrs. Kirk from English class. Dr. Horton from college. Mr. Whitehead from college.

But others are hazy. A few faces are remembered. Maybe a few comments. But actual classes are gone. I took 12 hours of Spanish in college and remember almost nothing. Deadlines and commitments took up that space in my brain.

But there is one I remember. One lesson. One teacher.

I took an elective class my senior year of college taught by a guy named Jerry Pierce. It was literally me and one other student. Her name was Mary. I don’t remember her last name and have no idea where life took her after graduation. She came into my life for that class and left to go to her own world. Just one of those people who we meet and never see again.

But Mr. Pierce, I remember, and the reason why is because he taught me how to write. I mean really write. How to connect with a reader and how to evoke an emotional response.

He taught me the two main rules of writing. 1 – Communicate effectively and efficiently and 2 – make the reader care. We read and we wrote, and I got better. I learned the purpose of writing. The art of it. I learned how you can change things with a few well-crafted phrases and shine a light on the good and bad around us without ever saying a word.

Jerry Pierce set me down a path that I never would have gone down without him. He taught me so much, and I still use those two rules of writing today. I base everything I write around those two rules. I teach my students those rules and base all my writing instruction upon that foundation. Commas and structure are secondary. They come later. They come after the two main rules. 1 – say what you need to say and don’t beat around the bush and 2 – grab that reader and make them say “this is worth reading.”

He changed my life.

I haven’t thought of him for a long time. Not until I learned last week of his passing.

His obituary began, “Incomparable impact over 57 years at his beloved alma mater, Northwestern State University, and in his adopted hometown of Natchitoches, along with significant statewide influence in higher education and sports were hallmarks of Jerry Pierce, who died Tuesday in Natchitoches after a brief illness.” He was 83.

Mr. Pierce taught thousands of students over the years, and I highly doubt he remembered me. I was one of those students that he likely forgot with the passage of time. That doesn’t bother me at all.

He may have forgotten me like I have forgotten students like they have forgotten me. It’s part of life. We forget. We forget friends. We forget co-workers. We forget old loves.

But on occasion, there are people who make an impact on us.

Jerry Pierce was one of those people for me.

He was a good one. And he changed my life.

And I will remember him.

Josh Beavers is a teacher and a writer.