DeWayne's World - Thank you, 'Mother Mike'

DeWayne Bartels

This has been one of the hardest columns of my career to write.

The subject matter is easy — a great teacher.

What to say about that teacher has been the hard part.

What does one say about a truly great teacher who has become a valued friend?

Thank you seems so inadequate.

But, if it is heartfelt, a great teacher will find it acceptable.

I want to say thank you to Mike Foster. (See Page 1 for a story on Foster.)  

I can recall walking into the office of the chairwoman of Illinois Central College’s English Department in 1987.

I had to get her signature to sign up for the journalism program.

She looked over my records and told me she did not think it was a good idea.

She said the journalism program had the highest drop-out rate in the school.

She said it was incredibly demanding, and that although I had newspaper experience none of it involved reporting.

I insisted I could handle it.

She signed the papers and Foster entered my life.

To say his class was demanding right from the start would be a vast understatement.

But, the demands he placed were a taste of the demands of an editor on a grunt reporter.

By the time the date to drop a class without a mark on your college records came around the class had gone from full to just seven people.  

Those of us left saw a dramatic change in Foster.

He went from what he called “Mike the Mother” to “Mother Mike.”

Foster was still demanding but he nurtured those of us left. Each of us became a personal project of his.   

I got a staff position on the student newspaper, while still in the beginning reporting class, at Foster’s suggestion.

He believed in me. I began to believe in me.

When all was said and done I became editor of the student newspaper, The Harbinger.

That is when my bond with Foster really began to form.

We met often.

He taught me how to layout the paper.

We concurred and argued about details.

We debated story ideas. We were a team, but Foster always made it clear to me I was the captain of the team, that he was only an advisor. In the end I called the shots.

Foster taught me in many ways.

He prevented me from making mistakes.

Other times he let me go ahead and make a mistake so I would learn from it.

But, most of the time he placed faith in me and said, “Go for it.”

He smiled with approval when I threatened to sue the college for refusing to hand over records that I had every legal right to possess.

He winced over some stories I went after, but he stood behind me.

I shook the school up many times over stories or biting editorials I had written.

I caught flack for looking into things the school administration and some faculty wished I’d leave alone. Foster surely must have caught flack.

But, he never said anything about it save for one occasion.

Foster told me one day he got a phone call from a trustee of the college.

She was very upset about an editorial I had written about her.

“That’s the first time I ever had a trustee call me crying,” he said.

Then he smiled.     

Author William A. Ward said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

Foster is definitely the latter. Thank you teacher.