Voice: Another hurrah for Mr. Croughan, demander of excellence

May 19, 2001

A few years ago my mother was leaving the Town Pump restaurant and happened to see Mr. Croughan, my former English teacher from Brawley Union High School. My mother stopped to say hello and to tell him her children often complained how hard his class was, but would praise him for how much they learned from him. After reading another letter this week praising Mr. Croughan, I reflected on how important he was to my life.

As a teacher, I often encounter students who are overwhelmed by the rigorous scholastic demands of college. Poverty, language difficulty and the demands of family and jobs are all valid explanations for mediocre or poor performance. But I firmly believe one of the fundamental hurdles to classroom performance is an unfamiliarity with excellence.

Students who are unaware of, or have not been properly exposed to, excellence are often unsure of what exactly is expected of them. Unfamiliarity with excellence has nothing to do with material disadvantages or familial obligations.


Excellence is the highest standard, and students are often unsure of this nebulous concept. This brings me back to Mr. Croughan and my senior English class. I am not proud of the two "D's" I earned my senior year in English, but what I learned in that class is far more important than the grades I received.

For the first time in my life, I encountered intellectual excellence. Brilliance surrounded me, from the posters on the wall to the music I head. I was exposed to classical music, poets, famous novels, path-breaking cinema directors and influential movies. Even more challenging was the amount I had to memorize for the final (long passages of Chaucer come to mind).

What does any of this have to do with shaping my future? In a word: excellence. I learned that I had to work very, very hard just to pass. I never worked as hard until I entered graduate school. No class I took earning a bachelor's degree challenged me as that senior English class did. In fact, I can still imagine that classroom and my former teacher just as though it were yesterday.

Senioritis? I was just struggling to pass and avoid being a laughingstock!

Mr. Croughan set me on a lifelong journey in pursuit of intellectual brilliance. Even though I am about to earn a Ph.D., my intellectual quest for knowledge continues every day. It has been many years since 1983, but I have incorporated Mr. Croughan's standard in my courses. I demand excellence, just as my former English teacher did, and I poke and prod and plead and challenge so that students understand that earning a college degree or passing a difficult class takes hard work, determination and lots of reading, thinking and memorizing.

Mr. Croughan, I celebrate your influence every day. Thank you!


History instructor

Imperial Valley College

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