Memorable Teachers: Jakob Kahn

PotokPosterToday’s memorable teacher is the mercurial Jakob Kahn from My Name Is Asher Lev. A man of uncompromising principle, though not in a way you would expect from an Orthodox Jew. A man of fascinating contradictions, and yet a powerful and loving mentor.

This guy is what makes Chaim Potok an interesting writer to read. He builds characters that are so real and flawed, yet admirable.

I like the relationship between Jakob Kahn and Asher. Asher was very young when he was introduced to Jakob, but Jakob never dismisses him as a child in the negative sense. You know. We tend to brush children off as nuisances and unsophisticated. Jakob looked at Asher, though, and just saw a person.

Granted, his character is a bit gruff, and he’s generally humbug toward most people. Maybe not the Mary Poppins we all wish for. That’s what I liked about him, though. He didn’t paste on a fake smile for Asher, nor did he push him away. He avoided both extremes and kept his treatment of Asher in line with how he treated everyone (even if that meant being a bit of a stoneface). The same long measuring stick he used for others, he applied in equal force to Asher. As a result, Asher quickly rose to meet the high expectations Jakob had for him, and was better for it.

I know this principle of high expectations that honor the student bears real fruit in the classroom or the mentor/mentee relationship.

I witness it everyday in my mentoring experiences. When my expectations are low, my students fall to meet them. It’s so easy to lose heart when the person mentoring you has no real faith in what you can achieve.

On the other hand, there are no limits on the heights that can be reached when you feel truly supported and challenged by an inspirational mentor.

Jakob Kahn was certainly that. Perfect he was not, but his uncompromising thought process and quality work are easy to admire. When you see your mentor holding himself to such a high standard it seems unthinkable to hold yourself to anything less. I guess that’s what being inspiring really is. It’s doing whatever you do to the best of your ability. It’s a type of integrity you have toward your work that other people can’t help but notice. Then, they strive to reach those heights with you.

In the comments, tell me about your inspirational mentors. Who do you respect and admire, and why?