Hunter, as his students endearingly called him, was an off-beat old man with bushy, white hair, a nutty grin, and a glass eye. When I first began working with him through my high school drama program, I used to gaze past his spectacles to try to figure out which eye was actually looking at me when we spoke. By the time I became a Thespian and neared graduation, Hunter's glass eye was just another one of the idiosyncracies I loved about him.
Hunter taught at Sterling High School for 35 years. In that time, he was the only speech teacher in the building, and because speech was a graduation requirement, he had every single student to go through Sterling High School in his class for at least one semester. Because he secretly liked the reputation of being a crazy, stubborn, and disagreeable teacher, he preferred to think that students had somewhat of a negative attitude about having to take his class. However, the truth is that Hunter was the type of teacher that students are drawn to, and that many have a relationship with long after they leave his classroom.
It was not until I began my own teaching career that I began to identify the specific things about Hunter that made him a great educator. On the human side, he was a solid character with firm (but not always mainstream) values who shared the unique preson he was with his students. He told anecdotes from his life in the middle of his lessons--or maybe he taught lessons in the middle of his anecdotes. Either way, as an identify-forming adolescent, I appreciated and respected a teacher who was not only a genuine person but who also let that person shine through in everything he did.
For a man who liked the world to think he was reclusive, Hunter loved people, and he loved sharing himself with others. He enjoyed having his students visit him, and many did for years after they left SHS. Entering his small, soundproof office in the arts wing was never something you did when you were in a rush because Hunter could tell stories for hours on end, and he had just as much time to listen to whatever might be on your mind.
I could never get through any interaction with Hunter without hearing his wild, high-pitched laughter and being playfully called a "twink." No matter what budgeting difficulty the district had thrown at him or how his personal health was, he made an effort to smile and say, "Great!" when asked how he was doing. He might not admit it, but he recognized his role as an educator in setting the tone for his students both inside and outside the classroom.
As an instructor, Hunter used different teaching methods that made his lessons varied and interesting. Somewhat atypical of a 35-year veteran teacher, he was always telling us about new research in the fields of education and communications, and he applied what he learned to his teaching. It was in Hunter's speech class that I first learned about visual, auditory, and kinesthetic types of learners. In addition to teaching us how to write and deliver speeches, Hunter varied his curriculum and taught us interesting things that he felt would help us in life. He taught us about things like reading non-verbal cues, and he shared focusing and relaxation techniques with us. He had high standards for performance in his class, and he assessed students based on their individual ability, potential, and improvement.
He encouraged his students to develop qualities that would help them interact with others. He started each class by walking around and greeting every student in the room with a firm handshake. He encouraged us to express ourselves freely and to back up our opinions, but he also taught us to take responsibility for our actions. Hunter's students were free to communicate in any manner they saw fit, but he had a jar in which students who chose to use profane language must deposit coins. Sometimes because of the passion and excitement with which Hunter communicated with his students, he had to deposit some change into the jar himself.
Frank Hunter was a generous and caring person and a talented educator, and knowing him is one of the main reasons I chose to become a teacher. He passed away on May 2, 2002, near the end of my first year of teaching.
Frank Hunter was a grumpy old fart. He was stubborn as a mule. He was incredibly demanding of others. He had a fiery temper, could swear like a sailor, and threw things. He had bizarre ideas. He slathered everything in reach with forty coats of paint. He had bad breath and he looked funny.
Frank Hunter was a kind man who pretended to be old. He was strong-willed and dedicated. He was generous. He quickly forgave and forgot. He had exciting, off-the-wall ideas. Nothing he built ever broke. He had a smile that made you feel special. He was strong as an ox.
Frank Hunter taught every single student of Sterling High School for 35 years, and not one of those people will ever forget him. A pain in the ass to some, a surrogate father to many, he touched and enriched more lives than most of us can ever hope in our own.
He laughed loud and hard. In teasing his students, he gave as good as he got (usually better). He whispered encouragement in ears so as not to embarrass. He hugged. He pinned you to the floor with a knee in your chest, cackling maniacally.
At a time in life when it seems that everyone and everything is insane, he was the only one who was not afraid to admit that being a teenager sucked. He did not pretend that authority figures were anything other than human beings, subject to the same short-sightedness and stupidity as any one of us. He encouraged individual thought, self-confidence, and self-reliance.
Frank Hunter was a teacher unlike any other, and the ripples of his wisdom, kindness, and diligence will continue to expand and touch lives though the epicenter has disappeared from this world. Every student who got close to Hunter carries some of him wherever he goes, and the effect of the man's contributions to his small corner of the world may never end.
Goodbye, Mr. Hunter, and thanks for everything. We'll love and miss you always.