I have been lucky enough to have some excellent teachers. Although I tell my own kids that even if you don't like the teacher, you have to try your best, it's definitely easier to do this when you like the teacher. One of the best teachers I had was Monsieur Tétart. I met him in October of 1989, the summer of my Junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France.
The setting was a beautiful one: a large town in the south of France, characterized by old buildings, narrow streets, outdoor cafes, and bright blue skies. The town was also known for its many water fountains. We took classes at the Université de Provence, thanks to the Wellesley-in-Aix program we were on. We were in classes with other French students, with the added benefit of having extra classes with some of the professors, including Monsieur Tétart.
Unlike in my political science class, where the students had to write word for word what the professor lectured (and then regurgitate it on the exam), Monsieur Tétart discussed and interacted with the class. He was passionate about his subject, and it showed. In fact the art history I learned from him has stayed with me until today. Last week I went to the New York, and visited the MoMA, and I realized that I knew and loved many of the paintings and artists thanks to Monsieur Tétart. He laughed and smiled in class. He made a point of connecting with us, even going so far as to invite us to his home for a meal - something that was unheard of for the other French professors who kept a distance from their students. He never talked down to us, even though we were just learning French and the other professors didn't have the time of day for us. Monsieur Tétart cared about us and always took the extra time to help us. At the time, he was my favorite professor but I don't know if I could have defined why. Now I see in a more concrete way all the qualities he had that made him an awesome teacher.
Monsieur Tétart and I are still in touch. We exchange Christmas cards every year, and now thanks to Facebook, it's even easier to communicate. I often wonder if I will be able to see him again, maybe visit him with my family at his house in the beautiful town of Manosque. I think of him every time I go to an art museum, and for that, I want to say, "Merci mille fois, Monsieur Tétart."
Mont Sainte Victoire, by Cézanne