Now Serving In Uniform, Teacher Seeks To Inspire

Oct 8, 2011
Originally published on October 8, 2011 12:00 pm

Darryl St. George has served his country both in and out of uniform. He left his high school teaching job on Long Island in 2010 to become a Navy corpsman, a medic for the Marines.

"I loved teaching. It was a great job, but I felt like something was missing. I kind of — I felt compelled to serve," he told NPR's Tom Bowman in July.

At the time, he was at a dusty combat outpost in southern Afghanistan. St. George had one month left in his deployment and said that when he came home, he planned to visit the school where he had taught.

Earlier in October, he kept that promise, going back to Northport High School. He saw other teachers and got something of a hero's welcome.

When he had just quit his job to sign up to serve a year ago, St. George says, many teachers seemed angry.

"My first reaction was, 'Why? Why would you do this? ... You're making such a difference here,'" fellow social studies teacher Jim DeRosa says. "I was very worried he was going to be hurt."

St. George came back safely, and he wanted to talk to the students about what he had learned and why he had served.

Northport students were barely tots when the twin towers were attacked — Sept. 11, 2001, is a history lesson. When St. George saw those towers burn, he felt a personal obligation to serve, and he wanted the students to understand that.

In a speech at the school, he told the students they have to care.

"What do you care about most? What moves you? What inspires you? Ask that question, and again, you don't need to know the answer," St. George said. "The important thing is that you're asking the question, and you're actively going out there and making a difference — in some way. It doesn't have to be in uniform."

Did St. George reach them with that lesson for which he had risked his life? That could remain unknown for years. Many students may be unmoved, but a few might remember his words for the rest of their lives.

St. George is back now with his unit at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

He plans to teach again, but that's three years off. Next year, he could be sent anywhere, including back to Afghanistan.

"Who knows what will happen in Afghanistan in a year's time?" he says. "When people ask me, I'm intentionally vague because I don't know myself."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're going to check in now on a man who has served his country, both in and out of uniform. We profiled him this summer on MORNING EDITION in our series, Those Who Serve. Darryl St. George left his high school teaching post on Long Island to become a U.S. Navy corpsman, a medic for the U.S. Marines.

DARRYL ST. GEORGE: And I loved teaching. It was a great job, but I felt like something was missing. I kind of - I felt compelled to serve.

SIMON: That's Darryl St. George talking to NPR's Tom Bowman in July at a dusty combat outpost in southern Afghanistan. Darryl St. George had one month left in his deployment to Afghanistan, and said that when he came home, he planned to visit the school where he had taught. Earlier this month, he kept that promise. A few weeks ago, an NPR producer met Darryl St. George when he went back to Northport High School. He saw other teachers.

ST. GEORGE: Yeah.

CLAUDIA: (Unintelligible) everything.

ST. GEORGE: No, no, no.

CLAUDIA: You are doing so many wonderful things for all of us.

ST. GEORGE: Oh, thank you. Thank you, Claudia.

CLAUDIA: Thank you. I think about you all the time.

SIMON: And got something of a hero's welcome. But a year ago, when he just quit his job to sign up to serve, Darryl St. George says many teachers seemed angry. Here's his friend, Jim DeRosa, another social studies teacher.

JIM DEROSA: My first reaction was, why? Why would you do this? You know, like, you're making such a difference here. You're so respected here. You've changed lives here. You know, and I was saying that out of concern for my friend. You know, I was very worried that he was going to be hurt.

SIMON: Darryl St. George came back safely and he wanted to talk to the students about what he had learned and why he had served. Northport High School students were barely tots when the twin towers were attacked. 9/11 is a history lesson. But when St. George saw those towers burn, he felt a personal obligation to serve, and he wanted the students to understand that.

ST. GEORGE: I have get this right because, you know, when we think about what we lost and to the people we lost but also for the kids, like, I also wanted to make sure I could inspire them. So, you know, it was overwhelming and hoping that I'd be able to achieve those objectives. Still not there yet, so I'll have to talk.

SIMON: And then, it was time to talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE)

ST. GEORGE: You have to care. So I guess I ask you today, what do you care most about? What moves you? What inspires you? Ask that question, and again, you don't need to know the answer. The important thing is that you're asking the question, and you're actively going out there and making a difference in some way. It doesn't have to be in uniform.

SIMON: It could be in business, he told them, an artist, teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. St. George, thank you.

ST. GEORGE: Oh, no, yeah. Of course, yeah. Thank you. Take care of yourself, all right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

ST. GEORGE: See you later. Thanks.

SIMON: A few students asked questions. Did Darryl St. George reach them with that lesson for which he'd risked his life? A great teacher knows you can't know that for years. Many students will be unmoved, but a few might remember his words for the rest of their lives. Darryl St. George is back now with his unit at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He plans to teach again, but that's three years off. This next year, he could be sent anywhere, including back to Afghanistan.

ST. GEORGE: Who knows what will happen in Afghanistan in a year's time? So when people ask me, I'm intentionally vague 'cause I don't know myself.

SIMON: Actually, Darryl St. George seems to know himself pretty well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.