“The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate ‘apparently ordinary’ people to unusual effort.  The tough problem is not in identifying winners:  it is in making winners out of ordinary people.”  ~K. Patricia Cross

Thirty five years ago, I was one of those “apparently ordinary” people who had the good fortune of being mentored by an extraordinary teacher.

I am fortunate to have many teachers in my life who have made a positive and indelible mark on me as a person. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge the fact that any success we enjoy in life is due in large part to the care and support of others. Our parents, teachers, and friends all contribute to who we become through their wise counsel, compassion, patience, love and encouragement.

For this reason, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to take a few minutes to pay tribute to a remarkable man and teacher, Mr. Alan Moguin.

Mr. Alan Moguin is the moustached gentleman in the middle of the bottom row of the yearbook page below. I had Mr. Moguin for four classes (Chemistry I and II, Physics I and II) as a junior and senior at Sand Spring’s Charles Page High School in 1978 and 1979.


Mr. Moguin not only helped ignite my passion for science; he truly “changed my life.” I loved Mr. Moguin’s classes because he had high expectations for his students and pushed us to work hard and think outside the box. His enthusiasm for science was contagious and I certainly caught the bug. As a direct result of his influence, I went on to earn a degree in Geology which eventually led me to become a science teacher a decade later.

We all know that the true value of a teacher is far more than just what he or she teaches. Mr. Moguin was real. He laughed and always seemed in a good mood. I also always knew his concern for me was genuine. He took the time to talk with me outside of class and knew me better than just about anyone during my last year at school. This is just my speculation, but I think I reminded him of himself at my age.

I was a very quiet student. My parents moved frequently during my youth. We moved from Rhode Island to Sand Springs in October of my freshman year (talk about culture shock). The few friends that I had in high school were primarily kids with whom I played basketball. Although I was always a good student, I lacked confidence and had no real goals for my future.

My parents, brother and I lived in a small house on the west side of town. Throughout my teenage years, my parents experienced challenges with alcoholism. So did my brother. Somehow, I came through relatively unscathed. We didn’t have a lot of money yet we never went without food, clothes or important things. Lots of kids today have it far worse. I never doubted that my mom and dad loved me, but I recognized that our family wasn’t exactly normal either.

For that reason, I kept myself occupied with activities outside of the home. School became my sanctuary because it was a place I felt safe and equipped to succeed. When I wasn’t at school, I was either playing basketball or working at the Four Coins Family Restaurant two blocks south of school. I started washing dishes at the restaurant when I was 14 and typically worked 30-40 hours a week even during school. Although I kept myself very busy, I was essentially drifting through school.

During my senior year, I liked to go to Mr. Moguin’s room before class. Most of the time I would help him set up labs for the day’s lessons. Other times he would share with me his love of backpacking and the outdoors. We talked easily, almost like friends.

On one morning in early November, I remember having a conversation with Mr. Moguin about my plans for after high school. He asked me where I planned to attend college. My answer knocked him on his heels. I told him that I wasn’t planning to go to college. My parents did not have the money and I really didn’t have a reason to go. Therefore, my plan was to take a job as the full-time breakfast cook at the Four Coins Restaurant and see how things went from there.

I had never heard Mr. Moguin utter a harsh word until that moment. He looked me straight in the eye and responded: “Like hell you are!” He told me I was one of the brightest students he had ever had (knowing him, he probably said that to a lot of kids) and he was not going to sit back and allow me to squander my potential cooking omelets and french toast for a living.

He then asked me to bring in any college applications and scholarship forms I had collected so he could help me sort them out. One of the scholarships I was intrigued by was one for the Marine Corps ROTC Program. My dad had served in the Marines and I was always enamored with the Corps’s reputation for discipline and excellence. I looked at the pictures of Marine Corps officers in the brochure and dreamed of eventually wearing one myself.

At that time, the Marines awarded 250 scholarships each year to highly qualified candidates from across the country. I didn’t think I had a chance. Mr. Moguin told me I had it in the bag.

Over the next month, he worked with me before school to complete the application. He wrote a letter of recommendation and asked the school principal to write one as well. He read and reread my essays and had other teachers check them over for accuracy. When I mailed the application in early December, I honestly thought that I had wasted a lot of time for something I would never get.

I’m sure you can anticipate how this part of the story ends. I was one of those 250 students in America selected for a full Marine Corps ROTC scholarship. I still recall the look on Mr. Moguin’s face when my scholarship was announced at the senior class awards assembly. He met me as I left the stage and said, “You did it, Rob. Congratulations, I’m proud of you!”

With this scholarship, I had the choice of attending one of nearly 100 colleges or universities in the United States with a Marine Corp ROTC program.

Which university did I choose? Well, let’s just say Mr. Moguin earned his degree from Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. I did love Oregon as much as he said I would.

After graduating from college in 1983, I was commissioned a Marine Corps Officer and spent the next ten years serving in the artillery, including assignments in California, Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama and eighth months in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War.

I left active service in January 1993 and returned to Oklahoma with my two young children, Kevin, age 7, and Stephanie, age 4. Shortly after my return, I decided I needed to visit Mr. Moguin to catch up after all these years and let him know how much I appreciated all he had done for me. I remember making a call to the main office at Charles Page High School to ask if Mr. Moguin was still working there and was excited to find out that he was.

Regrettably, it was one of those things I thought about, talked about, and forgot about. I was starting a new job as a teacher in Jenks and raising two young children on my own. It was a busy time in my life. Suffice it to say, my idea to visit Mr. Moguin never came to be.

A short time later, in late September 1994, I saw Mr. Moguin’s name in the Tulsa World, with the following headline: High School Shocked by Suicide. Here was the story that took my breath away.

SAND SPRINGS (AP) – Students and fellow staff members at a Sand Springs high school tried to cope Tuesday with the suicide of a popular science teacher who shot himself after a minor hit-and-run accident.

Authorities say Alan Moguin backed his vehicle into the side of a house, used the homeowner’s phone to call his wife, then shot himself once in the head as a Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper approached Monday night.

“It’s a shock to everyone,” said Margaret Rice, who works in the principal’s office at Charles Page High School. “He’s doesn’t have that type of personality, one who would consider something like that. ” Moguin, 49, taught physics and honors chemistry at Charles Page.

Rice said one of his students last year listed Moguin as the teacher most responsible for helping the student win a scholarship.

I was crushed. As was the case with many of his friends, colleagues, current and former students, Mr. Moguin’s sudden, inexplicable death shook me to my core. Reading this article again today, I found it ironic that one of the comments mentioned was that he had helped another student win a scholarship. I wonder how many more “ordinary” students he pushed to become winners.

One of the challenges of being a teacher is that you don’t always get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. As former students, we move on to college and careers, start our own families, and set our own path in life. Too often, we neglect to thank those who helped shine a light to help guide our way when our lives were dark.

I look back with fondness at my good fortune of knowing Alan Moguin. He was a brilliant teacher who was able to inspire me and others with his passion for science and the warmth of his spirit. He put at least one boy who was previously adrift on a course to success and happiness. What Mr. Moguin wrote on the blackboard of my life will never be erased.

Since I cannot tell him in person, all I can do at this stage of my life is to pay it forward. I have a lot of work left to do.

If you still have the chance to thank a teacher who changed your life, don’t wait. You might regret it otherwise.

For current teachers, please remember the adage that “students may not remember everything you taught them, but they will remember how you treated them.” It only takes a few minutes to change a life.

Many thanks to all of the teachers who have helped shaped me throughout the years. And remember this: Your true value to children can never be accurately or fully measured with standardized tests or fancy statistical models. A teacher’s love is immeasurable.