Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Characters Welcome"

Most of my favorite television shows are on USA Network. Its programming includes Monk, Psych, Burn Notice, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and reruns of House and NCIS. USA’s theme for several years has been “Characters Welcome.” As I was watching Monk last night, I started thinking about characters I’ve known in my life. As it turns out, many of them were teachers. Some taught me, some worked with me. They were likable, great teachers, but always marched to the beat of a different drummer.

It started in first grade when the teacher made us practice drawing “o’s” over and over and over. She insisted we had to make perfectly round “o’s” because so many letters of the alphabet had that shape in them. O O O O O O O O O O O

My fourth grade teacher hated it when we dropped things on the floor. One day, we must have pushed her to the edge. She walked down every aisle and threw all our pens, pencils, and erasers on the floor and told us to leave them there. Actually, I think we pushed her over the edge. She may have even jumped.

We never had a regular physical education program when I was in elementary school. That same fourth grade teacher had us do marching drills for our physical activity. I can’t imagine how funny it looked to outsiders…thirty-five 10-year-olds doing marching drills. Left. Right. Left. Right. I must say, it did come in handy later in high school when I marched with the band.

Then there was the 7th grade science teacher who wanted to have the big discussion about science and religion. He found out it is not a good idea to have that discussion with 13-year olds. It was oddly funny, yes, but not a good idea. He’s the same teacher who gave a friend of mine a D with 17 minuses. I think he was being kind.

My 8th grade math teacher was 6’7” tall. He drove an Isetta to school. It was always fun to watch him arrive in the morning and leave at night.

The 9th grade biology teacher insisted we do experiments. You would think after the first one, he would have learned. We etherized fruit flies so that we could put them under a microscope to look at the chromosomes in their eyes. Unfortunately, they often revived while we were looking at them. Within a few days, they had found their way to the cafeteria. Lots and lots of them had found their way to the cafeteria. A second experiment involved incubating chicken eggs. We all expected to be playing with baby chicks; but instead, they exploded in the incubator over a weekend. When we came to school on Monday morning, the whole school smelled like rotten eggs. He insisted that the eggs did not have baby chicks in them. I never knew for sure. Another experiment involved mice. We put them on deficiency diets to see the results. Almost all of them died. I think we were supposed to get them back on the regular diets before that happened. And the last involved dissecting frogs. The frogs had been in the formaldehyde for a long, long time. I don’t even want to discuss what happened when we cut into them. The teacher was only at the school one year. I never knew if it was by choice or request.

One of my high school Spanish teachers always wore big fluffy bedroom slippers in class. When she left the room, she put on 4-inch heels. I don’t think the administration ever knew about the slippers.

The sophomore English teacher had a tic in her shoulder. We counted how many times in a class period her shoulder twitched. She was more interested that we learn “introductory adverbial phrases.”

My American history teacher hated doodling. Believe me, doodling is a hard habit to break. She yelled if she caught someone doodling. I got yelled at a lot.

The Advanced Math teacher used a gavel to start class everyday. He would pound it on his desk as an indication that it was time to start class. Oh yeah, we hid it several times. We had to.

After I started teaching, many more characters emerged. There was the Star Trek aficionado who taught physics, the Spanish teacher who cooked beans and rice on a hibachi in the carpeted hall, the science teachers who got into such a fight that the principal had to break them up, and the history teacher who dressed like Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln, depending on which war was being studied.

It is amazing what we remember about our teachers. I often wonder what quirky habits I displayed by which my students remember me. In the end, I’ve decided I really don’t want to know. And yet these teachers are the ones I remember best. These are the characters that make education interesting, fun, and memorable. And yes, we even learn from them.

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