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Emanuel's favorite teacher remembers young Rahm: ‘He was smart, he was curious'

Mayor Rahm Emanuel from his senior year at New Trier Township High School.

A self-proclaimed history buff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel credits his interest in history to his favorite teacher of all time – New Trier West High School history teacher Larry Grote.

“He taught me the beginning part of, kinda, critical thinking,” Emanuel says on a Teaching Channel video the Emanuel administration cited in news release about National Teacher Appreciation Week.

“About how to ask questions about what happens and the fun of history, because it’s an open question with no concrete answer,” Emanuel says on the “My Teacher, My Hero” video.

“I still to this day read history. I love history. I’m reading Max Hasting’s book [about World War II], Inferno.”

Grote, an Evanston resident, retired as a New Trier teacher in 2005, but still remembers Emanuel – his most famous student.

Even as a freshmen, Emanuel had “political skills. He could relate to anybody. He liked to solve problems and was pretty interested in contemporary issues,” said Grote, who still serves as assistant girls basketball coach at New Trier.

“I’m not surprised he’s in politics. I guess I’m surprised he’s mayor of Chicago. I thought he was more on course to be Speaker of the House. I wish he had stayed in Congress, personally.”

At the beginning of his assignment as a freshman-sophomore year “advisor” to Emanuel, Grote had dinner at Emanuel’s Wilmette home. There, Grote said, he found a “very lively conversation on a lot of different topics.” Emanuel’s father, a pediatrician, and two brothers – the younger Ari, now a Hollywood talent agent, and the older Ezekiel, now an oncologist and bioethicist at the National Institutes of Health – “relished talking with each other. It was a very fascinating two hours.”

Grote taught Emanuel when the future mayor was a high school senior in an American history course offered in a special program for self-directed learners. Emanuel chose it, Grote said, “because he wanted to design his own learning program, to do something that was different.”

“He was smart, he was curious, he had questions,” Grote said of Emanuel the student. “He wanted to explore things. And he was an excellent listener. He would listen to both sides of an argument. He did like to debate. He wasn’t a debater like his older brother, who was on the debate team, but he had skills that allowed him to articulate ideas in ways that were persuasive.”

Grote said he didn’t realize Emanuel still remembered him until he was reached by the Chicago Sun-Times this week and told Emanuel had publicly named him as his favorite teacher during Teacher Appreciation Week.

“It’s very nice to be remembered and appreciated,” Grote said. “I thank him for that.”

The Emanuel administration this week issued a news release reminding Chicagoans that National Teacher Appreciation Week runs through Saturday.

Said Emanuel in the release: “I offer my thanks to the educators in Chicago who work tirelessly to shape students both in and out of the classroom and prepare children for a very bright future.”

To see Emanuel discuss his favorite teacher as part of the Teaching Channel’s “My Teacher, My Hero,” go to the video posted at http://www.myteachermyhero.com/story/553/us/il/winnetka/rahm-emanuel/