I entered my first college class in the mid 1960’s at the University of Kansas. It was a Monday morning class at 7:30 A.M. in Hoch Auditorium with Dr. Clark Bricker. The class size for Chem 121 was over 800 students or about the size of my hometown of Caldwell, Kansas. As I approached the famous building wearing my cowboy boots and jeans, I had the age old questions of every student on the first day of class. I wondered if I would fit in, if I was going to do well, if my instructor would care about me, and if I would like the teacher and the class. In fact, this was my test to see if I even belonged at such a great University with so many talented students with so many experiences beyond my rural breeding. During the next hour, I began a journey through Dr. Bricker’s class that would set me sailing on a course that would determine my life’s work and model for me how I wanted to affect the lives of those around me.
Dr. Bricker met all 800 of the students inside the front door of Hock Auditorium with his Polaroid camera and lots of film. His energy, smile that often turned to the laugh that I still hear today, and ability to model for all to see that he was so glad we came to his class, has continued to play like a movie in my mind every year when I meet new students. He quickly trained a few early arriving student helpers, and in the next hour he captured the picture, name on the back of the picture, and heart and soul of all 800 students. He knew my name, my hometown, my heritage, and my fears, all by the end of the first class. My parents had always reminded me that “no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”, and Dr. Clark W. Bricker was suddenly one of the brightest men I had ever met. His brilliance on that day was not measured by the fact that he was one the scientist to create the atomic bomb by being part of the “Manhattan Project”, or that he wrote all the textbooks, but rather by the fact that he had been able to answer every first day question of all 800 students in one hour.
The following Wednesday, was the second day of Chem 121 and Dr. Bricker stood at the front entrance to shake every hand and call every student by name as the early arriving class filed in for the 7:30 A. M. class. Class started with some chemistry magic followed thunderous applause and it was that way for the entire semester. Dr. Bricker modeled teaching standards that live on in every student he touched. He demonstrated that high verbal ability was only one of many types of intelligence and should not be the measure of potential as a chemist or person. Intelligence in collaboration, organization, social skills, common sense, work ethic, and application of experience were richly rewarded in the chemistry lab. He valued our individuality and made each student feel as though the class was designed just for them. His mission was to bring each student along as far as he could in the precious time we had, and the traditional sorting and separating seemed far from in mind.
Each week as I run past Dr. Bricker’s grave in this college town, I am reminded that my life work has really been an effort to continue the profound teaching of Dr. Clark Bricker. He was practicing the best aspects of No Child Left Behind, multiple intelligence, outcomes based learning, IEPs, and many other noted educational thoughts long before they were codified as the trends of the day. I meet former students of Dr. Bricker continually and they all speak of his passionate, personalized, enthusiastic, and pragmatic approach to education. One hour of “Life 101” with Dr. Bricker in the 1960’s in the big lecture hall now called Bricker Auditorium changed my life in positive and profound ways. I always remember the power of great teachers.