I remember the English class I had with Mr. Peterson.  It was a required English 10 class, described by many students as one of the most boring and insipid in the school.  Except I got lucky: this one wasn’t.  The first class started innocently enough, opening with Mr. Peterson starting a discussion about one of the most notorious events of Skyline’s history: the 2014 food fight instigated by the departing seniors.  Little did we know that Mr. Peterson was laying the foundation of the curriculum of the entire trimester right then and there.  He argued the seniors were acting on their desire for a singular event to signify their coming of age, and challenged us to justify or disprove his argument.  We didn’t know it yet, but he would extend this debate for the whole trimester: we did numerous projects on and read multiple books related to the subject until the final exam, where we finally had to create and defend our own thesis of that question he asked on the very first day.

To this day I have never seen a teacher turn the farce of the first day of a term into that much of an effective class period, even in advanced placement classes where the material is introduced a whole summer beforehand.  What Mr. Peterson did that day would never have been taught in any educator preparatory class, but yet it was successful beyond any precedent.  It was a perfect microcosm of Mr. Peterson’s teaching style: unconventional but effective.  I was puzzled by his bizarre seating arrangement on the first day–a literal spiral of desks–but after seeing how it made Mr. Peterson both the figurative and literal center of attention in the class I wondered why teachers chose isolated and side-facing pods and boring and obscuring rows over it.

The news this summer of his passing obviously was a great shock to everyone who knew Mr. Peterson, but I’d like to believe I was particularly stupefied because of my experience with him less than a month before the event.  It was the waning days of the school year, and my biggest worry, surprisingly, was not third trimester finals, but that year’s print edition of the Skybox.  Not only were we already months behind schedule, but we had yet to choose our articles for the print edition, secure a printing arrangement for the paper, or decide on specific methods of distribution.  Adding to the fracas, many of the other members of the club had graduated, quit, or had stopped coming to our meetings for whatever reason.  In a chaotic situation with time especially being of the essence, Mr. Peterson, in spite of the fact that he probably was the most busy of us all–after all he had finals of each and every one of his own classes to write and later grade–devoted his time after school, during lunch, and during his preparation period to helping us finish the print edition.  In spite of every sign saying that it wouldn’t be so, Mr. Peterson and us, the small contingent of club members left, received the finished edition of the Skybox and tritriumphantly distributed it throughout the school on the term’s final week.  It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that someone who had shown the especial vitality, energy, and creativity needed for the arduous process of the release of a school-wide newspaper was suddenly gone.  When I reflected on this situation days later, I realized Mr. Peterson had, posthumously, taught me yet another theme of life: its unpredictability, cruelity, and complexity.  My favorite teacher may be gone, but I can say personally his teachings will never be forgotten.