Let’s talk about teachers for a minute. No doubt that everyone has their favorites as well as their least liked. I’ve mentioned a bit about my piano teachers in “People I’m Thankful for Even Though I Hate Them.” But I’m talking “school” here.
Oh, the memories… Oh, the PTSD!
Mathematics, for example. Apparently, I have a natural… um… “statistically significant gift” in this area even though I learned to detest it. I didn’t always hate math. I excelled in it, right up to geometry in eighth grade with Ms. “C”. Ms. C was one of those teachers out for a popularity vote. She flirted with—yes, “flirted” would be the proper term—with our 15-year-old class president and fawned over him like a giddy school-girl. Jordan was indeed handsome, and bright, and funny, and charming, and extremely popular; and what girl DIDN’T have a crush on him? But c’mon, Ms. C! You’re here to teach, not to rob the cradle. I am naïve about these things, but even I-I-I can see this heinous activity oh-so clearly from miles away.
Ms. C liked to use the overhead projector with transparencies. She’d write out the lesson for the day and complete one example of it before turning us loose on the assignment. If she made a mistake, she’d lick her finger in Jordan’s direction and wipe out the error on the transparency, joking how it never tasted like strawberries. Then she’d entertain “questions”. This meant “questions from Jordan.” If anyone else had a question, she’d look at Jordan pointedly and ask, “Would anyone like to answer so-n-so’s question?” Of course, Jordan would always oblige and she would—nine times out of ten—invite him to join her up front at the overhead projector to stand next to her and draw his answer.
Then of course, since Jordan completely understood the postulate-of-the-day, that meant that everyone understood it. She would write out the assignment, go over to the radio and turn on the latest tunes, then sit at her desk and chair-dance while grading papers. She did say it was fine to come up to her desk and ask her a question if you didn’t understand something. But really, the explanation coming out of her mouth was no more clear than the smeared ink residue on her finger. And who could really hear or concentrate with all that music going on?
When grades were issued, my report card read like a practical joke: “Health=‘A’; US History= ‘A’; Creative Writing= ‘A+’; Soccer= ‘A’; Physics= ‘A+’; Debate= ‘A’; Geometry= ‘D+’.” You would think somebody might have noticed this teeeiny unusual discrepancy. But no. Nothing was said. Nothing was done. I did, however, become very familiar with all of the latest pop tunes, which did assist me to land a little D.J. gig for a while. So it wasn’t a total loss.
From then on, math and all of its familial relations were dead to me. “Bonasera, Bonasera. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectful? …You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” I continued taking advanced courses, but it was never the same. One of the happiest days of my life was when I found out I had tested-out of all the math requirements for my university programs. I would never need to take another math course again! “But, that aside, let me say that I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace we have made here today.”
Science classes were always populated by the strangest, most interesting instructors. I really loved all sciences: chemistry, biology, physics, mechanical engineering, computer programming, etc. One of my most memorable instructors was a tenth-grade physics professor named Mr. “Z”. Mr. Z had a walking gate that I still sometimes use in improvised theatre. It was similar to the “Shaggy-walk” with the hint of a goose-step thrown in. If you’re having trouble envisioning this, that would be because I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. Adding to the anomaly, Mr. Z only cut his hair once a year at Christmastime. The majority of the year, he sported long and straight dirty-blonde locks that floated when he walked his “Mr. Z” stride. If there are aliens among us, he would definitely get my vote for “Coolest Planet-hopper”.
The runner-up to that would have been my seventh-grade English teacher, Mr. Kermit. His name wasn’t actually Mr. Kermit, but we called him that because guess who he looked like? Come to think of it, I believe I had a fair representation of several of the Muppet universe conducting my curriculum.
Yes, all you “30 Rock” fans, I know what you’re thinking. And for those of you who don’t know “30 Rock,” here’s a clip of what they’re thinking:
So what if I see the world a little differently. I have to do something to keep myself entertained.
Speaking of which—or maybe not even speaking on the same topic at all—or maybe it’s somewhere in between: My fifth and sixth grade teachers could not have been more different in their attitudes about my social development. As I’ve mentioned before, I was a rather quiet, unobtrusive soul growing up.
My fifth grade teacher, whose actual name I will use here with great reverence and respect, was of the opinion that I was smart enough to know what I wanted, how I wanted it, when I wanted it, and if I wanted anything at all. In other words, Mrs. Winegar always offered me the opportunity to participate in any and all classroom activities, but never constrained me to do so. I never felt forced or belittled by her. She had a special way of speaking to us as though we were all equals. It was as though she truly regarded each of us as a unique individual, worthy of her time and her respect.
She is the only teacher I remember who read to us on a consistent basis. Every day had a portion of time set aside where she would read aloud to the class at large. Now, this is fifth grade: we were all, of course, plenty old enough to be reading on our own. But oh, how I cherished this part of the day! There is something magical about it to me: like a gift. That someone would take the time to put their voice to interpret a story for me feels like love.
My father read to us growing up. And I lived for those moments as well. Like many men, my father’s way of showing his love was a bit more “round-about.” Dad showed his love by providing. He was an excellent provider, dedicated to showing his love in this way. It took me many years to understand this. In the meantime, when he would read to us, I hung on every word. Savoring them like tiny drops of love and tucking them away in my deep reservoir of longing, trying to fill it drop by precious drop.
These two people, Mrs. Winegar and my dad, may be the very reason why I have such an intense affinity for audiobooks and get downright giddy when I hear Jim Dale’s voice. Yes, “downright giddy” is the proper description and my coworker, Ders, has seen it. ‘taint purty. But,… meh. ‘tis what ‘tis. “Who’s Jim Dale,” you ask? Ah! Only the most incredibly amazing voice over artist ON THE PLANET! Wow. If you haven’t heard this man, then your soul has a hole in it you didn’t know was there. ANYthing by him is enchanting and transcendental.
So, with Mrs. Winegar, I blossomed under her tutelage in the glow of such a welcoming way and gentle encouragement. Such teachers are all too rare. But I am one of the lucky ones. She passed on just last year and I never got around to sending her the lengthy tome of thanks I meant to write all these years. Really, I’m sure a simple “Thank You” would have sufficed. I look forward to being able to express my sincere gratitude to her in the next life.
We moved again in the middle of my sixth-grade year and this new teacher—the Gabe Kaplan/Mr. Kotter look-alike—was anything but subtle in his endeavors to make me “more outgoing”. Fortunately for both of us, I didn’t end up hating him; and so dug in my heels a little less firmly than if I had hated him. If our personalities had been less compatible, I shudder to think what the results might have been. As it was, I played the game. I knew just how much I needed to fake extroversion before it looked like I was faking. I also knew instinctively when not to give in; just to keep him on his toes, really. After all, I wouldn’t want him to get bored with his pet project, right? I look back now and remember it being kind of fun, all this second-guessing about what he was trying to get out of me—performance-wise—and how much I was willing to give before reeling it back in again. Yes, I can be a little snot when I want to. Don’t get on my bad side.
There are a couple more stories I had planned to tell but this post is getting long and I’ll save them for another time.
The one Muppet-personality I never ran into until much, much later into my adulthood was that of the beloved Beaker. Now that I have met a real-life “Beaker,” I love him all the more—except that I do try to keep expensive, breakable items out of the immediate vicinity.
Beaker’s “Ode to Joy,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnT7pT6zCcA
So to all my teachers, young and old, good and bad, alive and dead, I say “Thank You” for putting up with me and teaching me a thing or two about this and that and the other things. “Mahna-Mahnam.”