Sussex County History Today: The spirit of a teacher

| 15 Apr 2023 | 07:10

History includes the passage of times and the events and personalities that are contained within.

Figures in history include movers and shakers who have had an effect on societies or nations and who have helped bend the arc of history in a certain direction. Favorites of mine include George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt and Jesus.

Another world-class person who comes to mind, closer to home here in Sussex County, is Howard Charles Bach Jr., the quintessential teacher. He passed away on April 5.

“Howie” Bach came to teach at my school, Franklin High School, in 1967. He was fresh out of college, coming up from the Atlantic City area.

Mr. Bach had a gruff manner of speech, a similar delivery to our math teacher, Mr. McKeeby. Mr. Bach had a football persona, a man’s man way of handling himself. He walked with a tough guy look; somebody you wouldn’t want to mess with. He quickly became known to all in the hallways and classrooms of our Franklin High.

Contrary to the appearance, Mr. Bach was a very friendly man. Just saying “hi” to him would bring a bright spark to the eyes behind his heavy glasses and a smile would pop out on his face. He would give an energetic hello that was usually followed by a perky wisecrack. This man was definitely good-natured through and through.

Mr. Bach taught physics to us. He made the classes interesting. Despite the stiff heavy rigor of wavelengths and optics, centrifugal forces, heat transfer, and energy and entropy, we enjoyed the class and his expression of hard subjects.

He carried the class along on the experience of science.

Mr. Bach was also an integral part of the football team. He was a coach and eventually head coach. All the players loved his coaching ability and leadership style.

Memorable times included his buoyant personality at the pre-game bonfire pep rally during those days of old. I know I wasn’t the only one from Franklin High School who would say, if asked, that he was my favorite teacher.

Days of high school receded into the background as each of us encountered the heights and depths of living our lives. We go about our tasks and needs and build our careers and families and get on with things.

For about 15 years, I had acted as the alumni rep of Columbia University in New York City for interviewing prospective students from North Jersey.

From time to time, I would have seniors from Newton High School come to be interviewed. I’d ask them to come prepared with a resume and where they’d like to see themselves in five and 10 years.

During the interview, I would ask, “Who was your favorite teacher?” Those students from Newton High School would say, without fail, “Mr. Bach.”

As I later found out, he had moved over to Newton High some years later.

At first I was amazed but then realized that this man made a great difference to students spanning many years.

I also got a laugh when I would say, during the late November time when students would come for early decision reasons, “So, did you like how a centroid of a baseball bat can be found by sliding your fingers in from both ends?”

The students would be stunned and astonished and say, “We just covered that and in Mr. Bach’s class!”

Ah, the memory I have. And the routinization of good teaching by the favorite teacher of both of us in the interview.

Howie exhibited all the factors that are said to make up a good teacher: He knew his subject matter and expressed it with confidence and authority. He commanded the attention of the kids. He was very personable with each student. He was truthful and honest and consistent. He would go the extra mile for someone in need. Knowing him was enjoyable. He was a person who made life better for everyone he met.

About 2007, I was a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. A student there was from Newton and was in Mr. Bach’s last class before he retired. I asked him the question and he replied, “My favorite teacher was Mr. Bach.”

Bill Truran, Sussex County Historian