Typically, graduations are a time to move past high school and look forward — to starting college or launching a career. But this coming weekend, our college-graduating daughter will get a chance to reflect on the inspiration of an OPRF High School teacher who helped her find her voice as a young woman of color navigating a school roiling with racial tensions.
John Hoerster, who gets a lot of visibility as Oak Park’s winning football coach but not as much for being an amazing English teacher, will be honored on stage during my daughter’s commencement ceremony at Amherst College in Massachusetts on May 26.
Jana (OPRF class of 2015) nominated Mr. Hoerster for a special honor (Swift Moore Teaching Award) that her college awards during graduation ceremonies. It “recognizes three outstanding secondary school teachers who challenged, inspired and moved members of the graduating class.”
In an essay nominating her junior year AP English teacher for the award, Jana wrote this: “John Hoerster created, in his classroom, a space that was both intellectually challenging and emotionally comforting.” Walking into Mr. Hoerster’s class, she wrote, “was like arriving at the dinner table with your family. … Conversation flowed easily, and Mr. Hoerster let the students lead, keeping us on track but never dominating with his own ideas. … He was the one who created a space where I could comfortably talk about my race. By allowing me a chance to fully express (myself) … he aided me in becoming a stronger and more confident student and person. In the way he lives life, teaches his students, coaches his team, and cares for every single student of color who walks into his classroom, Mr. Hoerster will forever be an inspiration to me.”
I want to thank Mr. Hoerster and all the teachers everywhere who go above and beyond to bring out the best in our children — inspiring their intellectual interests and creating safe spaces in their classrooms.
Tracy Dell’Angela Barber