My Dead Poets Society Teacher

Dead Poets SocietyDid you ever see that movie “Dead Poets Society“, the 1989 film starring Robin Williams and directed by (Australian) Peter Weir? Set at a conservative and aristocratic boys prep school, it told the story of an English teacher who inspires his students to change the way they viewed conformity through his teaching of poetry and literature. Well I had my own Mr Keating, his name was Mr Wells. The difference between my school and the school in the movie could not be more different, the movie depicted an all boys school where in my reality I was one of two boys in an almost all girl English Literature class, and pressure from rich families to perform was mostly replaced by single parent homes struggling to pay the rent. While in the movie the teacher was inspiring young men to break free of the system, my teacher was doing his best to inspire us to seek higher education.

But there were definite similarities between the character portrayed in the Dead Poets Society and my teacher and for that I will always be grateful.  Mr Wells was a true inspiration to me, in a world where my father was my hero, who introduced me to books and the amazing joy one can find in them, it was Mr Wells who taught us how to really find the meaning in literature.  To this very day, I think how beautiful the love was that Gatsby had for his Daisy, and I picture in my mind the image of him standing on his jetty, looking longingly across the water at a green light, flashing on the end of her jetty.  This sense of endless love juxtaposed with human imperfectness in an existential world has always touched a chord with me.

Mr Wells himself was actually a Vietnam vet and was constantly harassed by a fungal infection that he picked up when fighting in that war.  But this was not his biggest challenge, not by far… during the three years that he guided my Literature class, his wife, and love of his life, developed cancer and went down hill fast.  By my graduating year things were not good, Mrs Wells was fading with not much time left.  So to repay the inspiration that this wonderful man had given us, we gathered what money we had as a class, and booked a weekend away in a hotel for these two wonderful people to enjoy some precious time together, which was one of the last opportunities they had to so.  Knowing as he did, that money was very tight for most of us, he simply started to weep, adjusting his glasses to rub his eyes, and whispered a “thank you”.  It was our “Oh Captain, My Captain” moment and I’ll never forget it.

Perhaps, what I think was Mr Wells’ greatest gift to me was aptly, a poem.  Written by William Wordsworth, it has stuck in my mind for 20 years. It is so inspiring to me I even went to Wordsworth’s house to see where he wrote it.  My favorite line? “The child is father of the man”.  It is a lesson not to lose the boyhood (or girlhood) wonder of life as we grow older.  To marvel at and appreciate everything life, and this planet has to offer.  It’s a lesson too many of us forget!


William Wordsworth – My Heart Leaps Up

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky.
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.


Written by Ryan Hodgson