Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Why Great Teachers Matter: The Students of Dr. Jeff Gall

January 26, 2016

Dr Jeffrey Gall

At his surprise Milken Educator Award notification, Dr. Jeffrey Gall (MO '96) shared his definition of success with the students, staff and guests gathered in the gym. Success, Gall said, is "investing yourself in something that will outlive you." With that in mind, we asked three of Gall's former students how his history class affected their lives after high school. Part of an occasional series on former students of our Milken Educators.

Stephen Ornes
Science writer Stephen Ornes with son Harry

Name: Stephen Ornes

What I do now: I'm a freelance science writer specializing in astronomy, physics, math and cancer research. I also write about science for kids and teach an undergraduate class in science communication at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Back then: I consider myself extremely lucky to have had Jeff Gall for three years during high school. He taught Pre-IB History (9th grade) and the two-year IB History class (11th and 12th grades). I also overlapped with him at the Missouri Scholars Academy, where he taught for a number of years and where I worked for many summers during and after college.

Why he stuck with me: I wasn't particularly interested in history, but Dr. Gall exhibited an infectious passion for his subject matter that was impossible to ignore. I had many good teachers, but only a handful who were as enthusiastic or as invested in their students as Dr. Gall.

I didn't go into history, and I never again took a history class with such a character. I did, however, teach for many years, and he was always my role model. He's the kind of teacher I aspired to be: confident, funny, and compassionate. Looking back, he embodied a twofold spirit that I try to maintain in my own work: Get excited, and keep your sense of humor.

Kyle Anderson
History teacher Kyle Anderson

Name: Kyle S. Anderson

What I do now: I'm Teaching and Learning Coach at Staley High School in the North Kansas City School District. I'm also Adjunct History Lecturer at University of Central Missouri, Metropolitan Community Colleges Kansas City, and Southern New Hampshire University.  

Back then: In the mid-1990s, Dr. Gall was my history teacher during my junior and senior years in IB History of the Americas I and II at Lee's Summit North High School. History wasn't my best subject, but all of the older students told the younger students that they had to take IB History to guarantee Dr. Gall was their teacher.  

Why he stuck with me: Dr. Gall is the reason I became a history teacher. When I was a senior in IB History I shared with him that I was thinking about teaching. He said "Kyle, this world needs people like you to teach history. I’ll do anything I can to help you with your journey." He later encouraged me to earn a master's in history to teach in higher education. My current career goal is to teach history full-time for a local community college, so Dr. Gall continues to influence me and my life.  

Gautam Nayak
Cardiologist Dr. Gautam Nayak

Name: Gautam S. Nayak, MD

What I do now: I'm a cardiologist at Confluence Health in Wenatchee, Washington.

Back then: I was in Jeff Gall's history classes in 9th, 11th and 12th grades at Lee's Summit High School. He taught my pre-IB American History class (9th grade), IB History of the Americas I (11th grade) and IB History of the Americas II (12th grade).

Why he stuck with me: Dr. Gall has been the single most influential teacher in my academic career, which includes an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, medical school, residency and fellowship (that’s 25 years of academics).

The most important trait Dr. Gall is singularly responsible for instilling in me was a love for learning. As a physician, my entire career is based on lifelong learning, and Dr. Gall was the first person to show me why this quality is so important. He did this by example as he completed his doctorate while maintaining a full teaching and coaching schedule. He also did this through his classes, which were simply incredible. His lectures pushed us to develop a perspective on history that drove me to learn more outside of the classroom. His ability to incorporate many viewpoints on any given subject fostered a drive for objectivity and stressed the importance of understanding multiple viewpoints. In retrospect, his lectures were more dynamic and engaging than most professors I encountered in college and medical school. I cannot imagine getting through high school and pursuing my career goals without his influence.  

Through Dr. Gall's classes, I developed a love for American history. His approach to subjects made me proud to be an American but also left me humbled at how difficult and complicated our country's struggles have been. Dr. Gall never "candy-coated" history. Even though we were only in high school, he ensured that we were taught nuanced, complex events in our history in a way we could comprehend and remember. I served as a physician in the U.S. Navy for 10 years, and it's not a stretch to credit Dr. Gall for teaching me the value of civic duty, service to our nation, and historical precedence, especially important to me as the son of immigrants. When your teacher makes history "real," you want to take advantage of opportunities such as military service because you understand what it means and why it will shape your future.

It's rare to find teachers who could strike a balance in the classroom between friendship and teaching. From the instant I met Dr. Gall on the first day of high school, I felt that he cared. He encouraged community service and regularly took me and my classmates to local soup kitchens and homeless shelters to volunteer. As a middle-class teen growing up in the suburbs, this experience was transformative. I used these community visits, to which I would otherwise never have been exposed, to develop my own community service projects in medical school and now as a physician. (I'm a founder and president of the U.S. Medical Soccer Team, which brings together physicians from around the country for soccer and community outreach to underserved youth.)

I wouldn't be the person I am today, both personally and professionally, without Dr. Gall. He came into my life at a time when teachers can make a huge impact, and truly, he did just that. I invoke something Dr Gall. taught me virtually every day, well beyond history lessons.


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