Metageologist over at the All-geo blog network has put out calls for posts about most important teachers, which really wasn't something I had to think much about. I easily could identify that person.
My sophomore year of high school I decided to participate in Science Olympiad, I wasn't sure what I would do, but I knew I liked science so I went out. Well at the first meeting I committed a great heresy; when my friend asked me to team up with her to try out for the Rocks and Minerals competition, I told her no, that it would be too boring. However, she called in an old favor or something like that, and twisted my arm into trying out for the team.
I barely knew anything about rocks and next to nothing about minerals, so when I met up with the team mentor I had no idea what to expect, but I was quickly proved wrong in my initial assumptions. The mentor, Coach Ford, was a science teacher I had never met, but I had only been on campus for a few weeks so it wasn't suprising. He was fairly tall, a little lanky, grey and wrinkled, but with a kind and wiley smile. He spoke extremely softly, and if the room wasn't silent you could easily miss almost every word he said. We started in on minerals, which was interesting, especially the crystalline geometries, though I had some trouble grasping them at first.
I wouldn't say I was that interested in the subject until he opened up a textbook and went over the rock cycle. I believe we might have gone over it once before, but after having a grasp on the basics of geology, I was blown away by the implications of the cycle. The idea that all material on the Earth had been recycled was amazing and I sat at home dumbstruck that night. Then he started talking about igneous rocks, and showed us the basic identification chart and I was sold hook, line, and sinker.
If that's all he had done it probably wouldn't have been enough to become my most important teacher; however, you have to understand the trouble he had to go through to reach me. First off, I was a high school athlete, so instead of meeting after class we had to meet after wrestling practice (either at 7:00 or 8:00 pm) and then he would go over geology (as well as other competitions such as astronomy, ecology, oceanography, etc.) for up to two or three hours, thus he came back to work at all hours of the night just to teach us subjects; not because it was his job, but just because he wanted to.
Then during my junior and senior years, I took his classes and he still liked me afterwards, which is in of itself somewhat impressive. I wasn't a good student, I got good grades, but I didn't pay attention, I had a tendency to nap in classes, and was given to flights of fancy. School had never been challenging and I was bored, but he didn't get frustrated; instead he inspired me. We learned about a numerous miraculous phenomena, he took us on field trips, and he made us teach each other. Other classes were fun and other classes were useful, but the two classes I took (Environmental Science and Astronomy, Meteorology, Geology) were the most useful and the most interesting.
The best part of his classes was that he pushed scientific literacy; he honestly believed that our lives would be improved by a greater understanding of the natural world. Those of his students who took advantage of his teachings were greatly improved by this philosophy, although most probably didn't do so as we lived in a very religiously conservative area, and I would say this made his work even more impressive as he reached out his hand to students who slapped it away.
Suffice it to say that I would not be in this amazing field if it was not for Coach Ford, to the extent that whenever I receive a great opportunity (like a NASA internship) I e-mail him and thank him for inspiring me so much.