Thank You To My Great Teachers
While I’m thinking about it, I want to list the great teachers in my life:
1st Grade: Mrs. Countess – I don’t remember a whole lot about first grade, I remember my best friend was Shane, the only boy in the class with long hair, the rest of us having crew cuts. But I remember that Mrs. Countess was nice, even when I got in trouble.
3rd Grade: Mrs. Teague (formerly Ms. Seacrest, she got married while I was in her class.) – Instead of letting me be bored in class while they learned long division, she gave me more advanced math lessons personally.
21 years later I was picking up my oldest son from that very same school and passed by an open classroom to see one Mrs. Teague standing there teaching a new 3rd grade class. I stood in the doorway to watch and wondered if she would even remember me. She stopped her lecture to ask me, “Can I help you?” I told her that I had been a 3rd grader in her class many years ago and was glad to see her. She told me that she didn’t remember me. Oh well, a couple decades is a long time…
The next afternoon, as I walked by her door, she snatched my arm and pulled me into her classroom. “I’m sorry about that yesterday, I had those damn teacher evaluation people in here and I needed to get rid of you quick! Of course I remember you Gary! No one would forget the best student they ever had!”
I can’t believe I was the “best student ever”. I do recall her locking me out of her classroom to keep me from beating my nemesis, Tommy, to death once… We talked for a long time, I found out that she was retiring after that year and that my oldest son’s teacher was her assistant from the year before. I also found out that Mr. Teague had died earlier that year.
Every kid should get at least one Mrs. Teague in their life.
4th Grade Mathematics: Mrs Wilson – Not only did she have really hot legs (4th grade was about the time I discovered girls were great…) she also recognized that I already knew what she was teaching the class. So instead of mathematics, she taught me electronics.
7th Grade Advanced Algebra/Geometry: Mrs Aldridge – She had a short class of about a dozen super geek math students. She also didn’t send us packing when we pulled our weekly pranks on her, like turning the entire classroom backward while she was out…
10th Grade Advanced Biology: Mrs. Franklin – Yet another teacher who could handle pranks. One of these was elaborate enough to deserve a separate posting, more on that later. Mid year, catalogs selling geek teeshirts went around, one of which contained pretty much the entire answer key for one of her upcoming exams on the internal organs of a bull frog. When she said she would make us remove those shirts on exam day, someone asked, “What if it’s a girl wearing it?” She decided wearing the shirt was an automatic D then. We were hoping for the other option… Sadly the shirts didn’t arrive in time anyway.
10th Grade Analysis / Precalculus: Mr. Bruhwel – This is an odd one, because he truly hated me. Seriously, hated me. But he was a good teacher and his class was a good one, and backed up by what I think was the best math textbook I’ve ever seen, which (since I stole it…) is sitting right behind me on my desk, more than a quarter century later: Modern Introductory Analysis by Dolciani, Beckenbach, Donnelly, Jurgensen and Wooton. I’m convinced I can teach six year olds algebra via the lessons in this book. I’m working on the Munchkin with it already.
10th Grade Latin: Ms Rogers – Yet another teacher I was hot for… which may be the main reason I remember her. However, I did learn a little Latin… Te amo.
11th Grade Advanced Chemistry: Mr. Pascal – He also had a great textbook, sadly I didn’t steal it so I don’t remember what the name was or who wrote it. He was also VERY understanding. His class was at 7:30 AM and at the time I was not a morning person. (Oddly enough I’m like a fricken farmer now, I get up at 6:30 AM and I’m working by 6:50 AM every morning…) I showed up for the first 4 days of his class. He announced that our entire semester grade would come from the exam at the end of the semester. So, I went home, slept in, and read the book.
I showed up for the exam, four months later. At first I thought he didn’t notice me in the class, since he didn’t send me packing to the office. The exam was 10 questions, which at first glance didn’t seem like much to grade an entire semester. I barely finished the exam in the alloted 70 minutes. It was the most intense exam short of some college exams that I had ever taken. In short, yes, I’m a geek, I loved it.
I showed up the next day to see my grade. He handed the graded tests back to us so he could go over them with the class. I got a 98, not perfect due to a small math error. I had time to check the math on less than half the test before time was up, I was a little surprised that was the only math error. Again he seemed to take no notice of me in his class.
The bell rang and as he usually did, stood up, “Class dismissed. All except you Mr. H.” Oh crap, he did notice me… What followed was one of the most interesting conversations I’d had in my short school life.
“Have a seat,” he says and I sat in the chair by his desk. “Do you know that I currently have 180 plus students this year taking my course?” I shook my head no, and he continued, “All those students took the same exam yesterday. Of all those students, two of them scored the highest score, you and Mr. M” (Mr. M. was my best friend and sat right beside me in the class.) “Had I not been closely watching you, I would have bet that you had been copying from Mr. M. However, I know that you didn’t. Certainly you both worked out the problems differently and his little math error was in an entirely different place.”
I guess I was grinning, cause he seemed appropriately annoyed as he went on, “Clearly, you have a strong interest in chemistry, since the last time I saw you was in September, it would seem that someone else has done an excellent job teaching you the subject. I would like to know who that was.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that question, cause no one had actually taught me, the book was fairly self explanatory. “Um no one taught me, well, I guess technically it was you, but all I did was take the book home and read it.”
“You read the whole book?” He seemed shocked.
“And you understood it all?”
He then asked me a question, or rather asked me how I would go about solving what would have been an exam question from the back of the book, I don’t remember the question, but I do remember it had to do with nuclear chemistry. He seemed pleased with my answer. “That’s amazing. We wouldn’t cover half this book in the whole school year. And no one helped you?… Ok, now I want to know why you haven’t showed up for my class? Is it that it’s too boring? Too old for what you clearly already know?”
By default, I’m a fairly honest (some would say brutally) guy so I pretty much laid it out, “Well, you told us that our entire grade came from the final exam, so I figured if I could read the book I could just take the test. And I don’t like getting up early in the morning.”
He thought about that for a minute and said, “Well, I wish you would have told me that before. I’m going to give you a B for the semester. It would have been an A, but I can’t reward you for skipping class. In fact, if anyone finds out that you skipped that many classes I’ll get in trouble for having graded you at all. Now about showing up for my class, there is more to chemistry than there is in that book, suppose I get you transferred to a later class? It would have to be one of the 12th grade classes, but I’m sure I can talk them into it.”
The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Seeing as how, due to some computer error in scheduling (did I mention that I learned Fortran the year earlier?…), I had both lunch periods, I really didn’t want anyone from the head office mucking around looking too closely at my schedule. So I politely declined the offer.
It didn’t matter, I dropped out entirely, opting for work over school, later that year. All this sounds like bragging and it is (“It ain’t braggin’ if you done it.” – Will Rogers) but it is nothing to brag about. The simple fact is, I made some of the most incredibly stupid decisions of my life at that time, this was one one of them. Here was a great teacher, willing to take a bullet for me, and I declined the offer because I wanted to sleep in and eat lunch for two hours. Stupid is as stupid does… and I was always doing things.
College – Advanced Business Programming in COBOL: Alan Sizemore – It’s not so much that he did anything truly great for me, because for me, like most college classes, I just did the work and got graded in his class. But he was memorable because he was a brutally honest guy and had the guts to say something that no one else would say. In those college classes there were a pair of Indian women who were dumber than a sack of hammers. Everyone learned to avoid them when they came looking for help after trying to help them once, because it was impossible. For me I tried several times, thinking that language was a barrier here, but sadly, I became convinced they were just not bright enough to do this kind of work. After yet another wasted hour of in-class lecture time trying to explain something to them that they should have already known and were obviously never going to understand, only to find out that they had both failed, three times, the prerequisite courses for his class, he told them quite bluntly, they should seek education in another field. Despite that, I do know that he spent MANY hours after classes trying to teach those women programming, though I doubt he was ever successful.
It occurred to me while I was writing about this. Mr. Pascal graded all 180 of those exams overnight. It must have taken all night to pull that off, those exams were not multiple choice and I recall my answers spanning at least three pages. That’s dedication.
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