The Mighty Casey – a tribute to a great teacher

The following post was written about eight years ago in tribute to a college professor. As my mother was a teacher for years, I have a great affinity for all teachers, but especially the ones who go beyond the call. We should especially honor teachers who are risking their health by reopening their classrooms in these strange times.

Queen Latifah, whose mother was a teacher, is hosting a documentary show called “Teach.” The show highlights the passion, caring, capability and tenacity of several teachers at various grade levels. Peppered throughout the show, are small segments where actors and others come into view and highlight teachers that made a difference to them. It caused my wife and I to reflect on the teachers that meant so much to us. I had several in my K-12 years, but I wanted to highlight one from my college days, as I had his classes several times. I will call him The Mighty Casey, which is actually a nickname from another venue. More on that later.

Teachers come in all forms, shapes, and styles. Some are more demonstrative than others, while some are fairly studious even in front of a class. The Mighty Casey was actually more of the latter. He had a great sense of humor, yet did not use it as part of his teaching method. He was interesting beyond his subject matter skills (more on that later), but did not use those interests as props in his lectures. His gift was his magnificent ability to explain complex things for many to understand. And, if you did not get it, he was very generous with his time after classes to help you understand. He was quite genuine and approachable. This man, who could have had a large-size ego on exhibit due his reputation and authoring of books and papers, was not one to condescend and make you feel stupid.

We even drafted him to play on our basketball team at the college, which may have been the worst team ever. As one of our departing gifts at graduation, we framed a quizzical picture of him in a rag-tag basketball shirt. I reflect on that with an open question – how many students would give a picture of their favorite professor wearing a ill-fitting basketball shirt? But, that was part of who The Mighty Casey was and is. His love of sports was a reason behind the nickname he chose for a radio sports talk show he used to call into.

The DJ had a quiz format at the end of each radio show. Over a period of months which turned into years, when the questions were not answered by any listeners, our professor would call in and correctly answer the question. Instead of giving his real name, he chose the nickname “The Mighty Casey.” Many Americans know the reference to the Mighty Casey, from a baseball poem about a hero who strikes out to end the game called “Casey at the Bat” written in 1888 by Ernest Thayer. But, our professor rarely struck out. He became so proficient, he became the go-to guy on tough questions, not unlike his ability to explain complex topics to students. When the DJ needed to conclude the quiz part of the show when it ran long, the DJ would ask if “The Mighty Casey,”  “Casey” or even “Case” was listening. He usually was and would call in and answer the question correctly. And, it was not unusual for him to provide some deeper context to the events around a question.

Not using his name on the sports quiz show is a look into the character of this great teacher. He did not desire the acclaim for his name. He just loved to share what he knew so others could learn. I think that is the best way to think of him. His joy was helping people learn. He did not want people to only know the answer. He wanted people to be able to solve for the next answer using what he taught them. The Mighty Casey was a mentor and teacher to many. He made a huge difference to my career and life. His patience, understanding and love of learning and teaching are remembered well by many people.

Thank you – The Mighty Casey. You did not strike out when it mattered the most. All the best to you and your family. Readers, please feel free to share your favorites and why. I would love to hear your stories.

13 thoughts on “The Mighty Casey – a tribute to a great teacher

  1. Note to Readers: One of the reasons I like to highlight The Mighty Casey is his style is different from more demonstrative teachers, but still so effective. Teachers should have the courage to be themselves. Note, Casey’s subject matter was highly mathematical, so his ability to break down problem solving to its simplest terms is highly valued. That is not easy

    I have had teachers who were far more colorful, which is more than fine. But, at the end of the day, is did you learn? My daughter had two AP courses at the same time in high school. She loved one teacher and felt the other was too demanding. At the end of the year, she passed the demanding teacher’s national AP test with a grade of 4 and failed the other with a grade of 2. So, the key is where did she learn the most?

  2. I had a few teachers who were more companions than authority persons and we did respect them, maybe right because they made the effort to understand the youth. When I was in my graduating class, we discovered the feeling of “falling in love”, and during the daily breaks, many were walking hand-in-hand over the school area. One day, while we had a lesson at this one favorite teacher, Mr. Ritter, another teacher came in and held a speech of how we are an example for the younger students and that we should keep the distance. Mr. Ritter had not said a word but when that teacher left the classroom, he shook his head and said: “I don’t agree with Mr. XX. It is wonderful that you are feeling that way and that you are showing it. What a great example you are giving the younger students!” He was awesome and he taught my favorite subject: English!

  3. What a great tribute to The Mighty Casey Keith!
    He sounds like such a gift and especially to you. They can make or break you.
    My daughter is a teacher and I so much appreciate the great work of teachers everywhere! 💖💖💖

    • Cindy, thanks and kudos to your daughter. My mother loved teaching so much, she did a lot of Bible Study Fellowship teaching after she retired. Once a teacher….I have had several special teachers in my life, of all different styles of teaching, from matter-of-fact to the more flamboyant. They do leave their imprint. Keith

  4. The teacher who always comes to mind for me is Mrs. Gillespie. She taught string-instruments in grades 5 – 12. She introduced me to classical orchestral music. In the cow town where I grew up, orchestra was a doormat to sports, rodea, and to marching band, all of which got loads of attention and financial support. But Mrs. G managed to wheedle a few geeky kids into taking up a string instrument in the 5th grade and then she nurtured this handful of mostly misplaced kids, single-handedly chaperoning high school trips around the state and enduring untold hours of screeching.

    In high school she was a beloved mentor to me. I thought of her as the mother I thought I didn’t have because I could talk to her about anything and she would listen. Without a pedantic lecture, she would provide some simple but clarifying comment and send me on my way with a confidence that I didn’t possess when I entered her office.

    Mrs. G seemed old when I first saw her at the start of the 5th grade. Miraculously she didn’t age in all the years I knew her. I maintained contact even after graduation. I was saddened when her sweet husband died, and somewhat shocked to learn that she remarried after he died. Our correspondence continued for many years after I married and left town, ending only after her 2nd husband replied to one of my Christmas cards to inform me that she had died.

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