The Twilight Zone Inspiration: The Changing of the Guard

As the new school year begins for us here in New York I can't help but reflect on this episode from The Twilight Zone called The Changing of the Guard (1962). As a former teacher I remember what it was like to influence those younger than me and the importance of the connections formed between student and teacher. The things taught in a classroom can stay with a student for the rest of their lives. I know I'll never forget when my sophomore religion teacher commented on my writing assignment that he thought I was an amazing writer and that I should keep up with it. I still have that paper somewhere in my memory bins.

This is the 102nd episode on The Twilight Zone, airing on June 1, 1962. The episode follows a elderly English professor named Ellis Fowler who gets told that he must retire because he has taught already for 51 years. Professor Fowler is a committed teacher whose main focus in life has been his position as a teacher and the teaching the young men of the Rock Spring School for Boys.

After hearing this news of a forced retirement he begins to question whether or not he has made a difference as a teacher. Fowler decides to make preparations in order to take his life on Christmas Eve next to a statue of the famous educator Horace Mann, with its quote "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." Before he goes through with it he is called back to his classroom where he is visited by the spirits of his former students.

Fowler is taken by surprise not just by seeing them but having a few of them share how his teachings heavily influenced their lives for the better. He is moved to tears by their stories and before he knows it they all disappear. With his renewed faith in his skills as a teacher he accepts his retirement knowing that he has lived a full life because he knows he enriched the lives of his students.

Just like most parents, most teachers want to know that what they did as teachers meant something good to one of their students. I think that is something we could remember heading into the new academic year. That we should appreciate good teachers and let them know what they mean to us whenever we can because it can make a difference in their lives. 

Rod Serling ends the episode by saying, "Professor Ellis Fowler, teacher, who discovered rather belatedly something of his own value. A very small scholastic lesson, from the campus of the Twilight Zone."

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