Something that many of you may not know about me is, the fact that I have quite a huge family. I've grown up in Agawam, Massachusetts with around twenty five or so cousins, as well as countless aunts and uncles on my dad's side. With that being said, there is one person that I wish I was able to meet as I've grown up. That person is my Uncle Shaun Bresnahan.
Just this past Monday, my family and I paid a visit to my grandmother from Holyoke. There, is where she showed me the many articles written about my Uncle Shaun, as well as specific tributes toward him. What I found after reading these was truly remarkable.
I always remember seeing pictures of myself with him when I was just two years old, but never understood exactly how inspirational of a person he was. Uncle Shaun worked at Belchertown High School in Massachusetts where he was a Social Studies teacher for over twenty five years.
Uncle Shaun wasn't just a teacher of Social Studies though. He was a teacher of life. Someone that would inspire former students to follow in the same great path that he did. For him, no subject was uninteresting. He could make a debate about anything whether small or big.
Big on the environment, Uncle Shaun was one of the few teachers who would do more than just keep his students in a classroom. In fact, he took it to a whole other level. For a couple of years in the early 1990s, he gave eight students the opportunity to head to Costa Rica during vacation where they studied the rainforests and how important they are to the environment.
What made him such a special teacher and person is, his ability to connect people's problems in the past to problems in today's societies. For example, he would compare the issues farmers faced during the American Revolution to the issues that Third World countries face with their crops today.
As a result of this, him and one of his classes bought 100,000 acres of the Ecuadorian rain forest, adopted a baby gorilla, and started a telephone hotline to answer energy questions in their own community. You don't see that very often in a normal classroom.
One thing that I was able to notice after reading the countless works about him was, how much he loved to think. He says multiple times that thinking will help you become a better person, while also encouraging his students to become problem solvers in order to become good citizens.
He's a teacher who always respected a student who brought out his/her's ideas to the classroom. Every idea deserves a chance to be discussed according to him. He's a person who has been described as "an old hippie trying to keep the dream alive." Uncle Shaun has always been an innovator when it came to coming up with different activities to get the students critically thinking.
His constant motivation has gotten him a Social Studies teacher of the year award in 1991 statewide, as well as a national teacher of the year award in 1992. His national award earned him an article in Times magazine that same year. Described as a "Renaissance Man", Uncle Shaun was determined to change the world in every way he knew how to.
There was a letter that I read from one of his former students who is actually a teacher himself. He states that, Shaun was the one educator who understood what life meant the most. He was the one person that impacted his own teaching style.
My Uncle Shaun sadly died of cancer ironically on September 11, 2001. He will always be remembered as someone who could change someone's life through his personality and experiences. He was a big dreamer, and a lot of this dreams he had turned into a reality because of his teaching ability.
People will talk about remembering athletes, and celebrities however, we forget about the impact an everyday person can have. A person like Uncle Shaun is necessary for society. He did what most teachers wouldn't dare to do; take risks. and those risks are what made him such an important person to so many.