When I was going to school, I never thought about the teachers. That is, I never thought about where they had come from, or just how they ended up where they were. In public school, grades 1 to 8, they just were. Some were nicer. Some were more inspiring, but generally, they just were, a necessary evil. As I proceeded through high school, I started to wonder about some of the idiosyncrasies. It wasn’t till I became more adult, that I could look back on those who had helped mold me, and understand what had molded them.
When each class graduates from a teachers’ college, the ones at the top of the class get to pick where they will teach. It might be in a big city, with a bigger pay, or their home town, or where a husband or wife already has a job. The ones at the bottom of the list wind up in increasingly remote, undesirable locations. My high school wasn’t exactly the restaurant at the end of the universe, there was another 100 Kilometers to the top of the Bruce Peninsula, but we got some “interesting” instructors.
Because of the size of the school, most teachers had to teach more than one subject. Sometimes the juxtaposition was laughable. The same single male teacher who taught Chemistry, Physics, Botany and Zoology, had to teach boys’ Phys-ed. Called Chick, or Chicky, but never to his face, he was five foot three, and was never seen without a suit and tie. He taught me what little gymnastics I could absorb. The high-bar that the jocks could just reach up and grab, he had to jump for, but where they couldn’t get on it, he wound himself up like a little monkey. It was fascinating, watching him whirl around, with his rule-violating street-shoes going one way, and his tie streaming in another. When he wasn’t busy teaching, he was busy drinking and going to dance-halls to try to pick up the same teenage girls he had just taught in class.
Another of our male teachers had to teach English to grades nine and ten, and Mathematics to eleven and twelve. He had a speech impediment, and it was all we could do, not to laugh when he talked about turdy-tree and a turd. I don’t know how much of his own English education he slept through. He taught us the story of the Daedalus and Icarus, who made wings and escaped by flying away, only, he pronounced them Duh-lawd-us and Iraq-us. I told him one time, that his humor was very intrinsic, and the English teacher smiled and thanked me.
He used to sit on the right corner of his desk, cross his legs and swing the top one in and out, and invariably kick over the waste-basket. Clang, clang, clang. He’d pick up the mess, put the pail right back where it had been, cross his legs, and kick it over again. I sat at the back of his class. One day, he was droning on, and I picked a spot on the ceiling and stared at it. Took a minute or two, but suddenly he asked me a question. Without a second’s hesitation, I gave him the right answer, never taking my eyes off the spot. Now he had to wander back, while lecturing, and stare up where I was looking, making the whole class wonder what in Hell was up there.
One year, the theme for the senior prom was Carousel, a soft pretty idea. The movie, based on the play, had been released a few years earlier. On a bulletin board across from the office, the notice went up. Just as the Principal walked by, I loudly exclaimed, “Oh look, the theme for the prom is carousal”, an apt name, meaning mobile Bacchanalia. Sure enough, the Principal’s morning’s announcements included one about the upcoming carousal. Only about half the students *got it*, but my work had been done. I wasn’t a shit-disturber in school, really I wasn’t.
The shop teacher was like every shop teacher, only, maybe a little more. He was five-foot four….in any direction. He was a little pig of a man, but I kinda liked him, even if a lot of the guys didn’t. His vocabulary included phrases like, “It was darker than the inside of a pig’s ass”, and, in referring to the embarrassment he had inflicted on some poor student, “He turned as red as ten bottles of ketchup.” I don’t know why he thought ten bottles, or even two, would be any redder than one.
He owned the standard shop-coat and, judging from the food stains on it, it was older than any of us. He liked to put it on at the beginning of the first class, stuff his hands in the pockets like Napoleon, playing with himself, and strut around self-importantly. One of the students was a farm-boy whose parents raised ducks. He brought in two duck-eggs, half-filled the pockets with sawdust from the circular saw, dropped an egg in each pocket, and tapped them with a hammer. Try not to laugh, go ahead, just try not to.
In the winter, he liked to hang the shop-coat on a peg right above the hot air register. That way it was nice and warm to put on in the morning. We had the last shop class of the week. He wandered over and hung the coat up, and one devious classmate held his attention while his conspirator friend put a piece of Limburger cheese in each pocket. Perhaps one of them was the humiliated kid with the ketchup, or maybe they were just little assholes. We were told that the stench, Monday morning, was impressive. The windows were open to the winter, all day. He went without Old Faithful for a day, and came in the next day with a new coat.
I learned to be an educated, responsible, mature adult from these role-models, I assure you I did!