The best teacher I had in school

Mr Matz. He taught biology.  I was 14.  I was living in Chicago having moved from Dublin and going to New Trier Township High school up in the northern suburbs.

Mr Matz started the first class by holding up the biology textbook and asking how much it was worth?  $30.  He told us that if we learnt everything in it and could answer all the questions correctly, we each would be worth exactly $30 more.  However, if we gained a curiousity for life, a process for analysing systems, a desire to share our ideas, a self belief in our own ability – we would be worth infinitely more. He then set about to make that the real basis of the course.

About three weeks into the course, I received back a homework assignment that had been graded 11 out of 10.

I had never before got 11 out of 10.  In my schoolified mind I didn’t believe it was correct.  How could Mr Matz make the mistake of giving 11 when there were only 10 points to give. I remember receiving the work and sitting there in surprise.  I thought “there must be some mistake”.

I went up and spoke to Mr Matz and asked him about it after class.  He told me that I had clearly gone beyond his expectations for the assignment and therefore deserved more than the 10.  I remember going through a week trying to understand how he could give 11 when there were only 10 on the test.

Every class ended with 5 minutes of writing in our journals.  He didn’t mind what we wrote, all he asked was that our pen remained in contact with the paper for the full 5 minutes and we just wrote about what we felt like writing about.

I kept the habits of intellectual curiousity, of not taking 10 out of 10 for granted as the objective, of writing for a few minutes every day for the rest of my life…  I have forgotten osmosis, cellular membranes, species classifications…  what he was “supposed” to be teaching.   A fair deal.  Thanks Mr. Matz.


Wonderful news.  I wrote this post back in April 2010.  About 3 months after publishing it on my blog, Mr Matz’s wife sent me an email.  She let me know that Mr Matz is retired from New Trier.  I got their address and sent Mr Matz a card and a short letter.  Amazing what possibilities a simple blog post can open up!

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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