You know that oxymoronic trope about the the son of a policeman? They're always the one getting in the most trouble, doing things unbecoming of their parent given their occupation? That was me, only I was the son of a teacher.
Now I didn't really get into horrendous trouble, but boy, oh boy, did my buffoonish behavior try the patience of those who were, essentially, my dad’s colleagues and friends. I would do ANYthing for a laugh, and my grades suffered for it. All I cared about was the next big score...aka, “What could I do to make a fool of myself”. I was never disrespectful, but my shenanigans *were* a disruption in class ---not incessantly, mind you, but still a distraction.
I had this reputation that followed me; the teachers knew I would be a nuisance, and that seeped into my studies. Me being a flibbertigibbet caused a lot of problems. When that light bulb appeared above my head, it was all I could think about until my hilarious joke was realized. That is, until I met Mr. Mewinney.
First of all, the name. I was loving the name; it was so bizarre! Second, his appearance was also interesting. He was in great physical shape but had a big bald spot right on top of his head, and a perfectly coiffed blonde bowl cut all the way around his head like a monk. He was Kojack on top and Dorothy Hamill all around the rest of his dome. But this guy, this American History teacher, was different than any other teacher I'd ever had. When the bell rang he began lecturing. There was no ramp up or fiddling around with roll call; he just leapt right into the the stories that made up who we were and why our country was formed and the amazing denizens that made it all happen. There was no time for me to enact my plans, no breaks to interject my inanity. It was almost college-style teaching, and I kind of loved it. No fuss, no muss, no time for us to screw around. Now, that didn't deter me...I was the class clown after all! I needed to make my presence known. So, I tried to fire off a couple rounds. But, he shot me down with heat seeking missile precision, and his jab was an even funnier comeback! I would recoil in defeat and try again only to be shot down AGAIN. He kept winning the day. Every day!
Finally, one day he asked me to stay behind after class and he said,"You know, you're a funny kid, but not EVERYTHING you say is funny. Think about the joke before you say it. Timing is everything. Study that phenomenon. Know your audience. Sure, you make a room full of your peers laugh at some dumb joke, but if it's a smart joke at the right time, given to the right crowd? Trust me you'll love it."
Mr. Mewinney. He taught me a lot that year. He finally made me love history, a subject I didn't care about before that year. And also, he taught me that rapid-fire, scattershot comedy was a poor man’s game. Wait. Think. Listen. I'll never forget Mr. Mewinney for opening my mind and really making me conceptualize history... and comedy
A few evenings ago, my son and I were watching the film version of the classic Beowulf. It’s been a quarter of a century since I had read it in high school, but as the story began to unfold, I was transported to North Valley High School, circa 1989 and Mrs. Foltz’s sonorous voice reading about Grendel to us. She did that, read to Advance Placement juniors. And we, even if we believed ourselves to be above such elementary activities, soaked. it. up. Whether Kafka’s Gregor from Metamorphosis, or passages from Milton’s Paradise Lost, we all leaned in to hear her interpret the scenes, experiencing the nuance, the heartbreak, the tenderness in tragedy. Because she loved those characters as dear friends, I did too, even if I had not yet the life experience to understand, exactly, why. Because we loved Mrs. Foltz and the doors she opened into the adult world for us, we were willing to work, to dig deeper, to trust our tenuous first steps into the “moreness” of...life.
It was in Mrs. Foltz classes where we stopped filling in blanks on dittos and handouts. Instead, we were urged to develop our own perspectives, cultivate support for our opinions about style and tone and mood, rely on all that we had learned about the language of literature and pour it out onto the page for the scrutiny of peers. What life lessons for a students in a tiny rural community in southern Oregon! What a challenge to our perspectives thus far! What an invitation to become thinkers and dreamers and contributors!
Have you heard that saying of Guilaume Appollinaire? It reads, “‘Come to the edge,’ the teacher said. They said, ‘We are afraid.’ ‘Come to the edge,’ the teacher said. They came. The teacher pushed them...and they flew.” That’s what Mrs. Foltz did for us. And we have flown ever since.
How did she write so clearly in the margins of our papers? And, how did she return our work to us in such short order? I’m confident that she possessed that special kind of magic that all the good ones have. These days, I’m an English teacher myself. I have a long way to go to become as talented as Mrs. Foltz, but she would recognize her fingerprints on many of the adventures in literature and writing that my students and I take. Thank you so, so much, Mrs. Foltz!
Mr. Francis and Mr. Meagher
When I was in fifth grade, I helped make a spaceship. I also walked through a human heart, and I directed my very own film. For me, Tualatin Elementary wasn't just a little brick schoolhouse, it was the International Space Station, a medical laboratory, and a Hollywood movie set all in one. And that's thanks to Frank Francis and Steve Meagher, two of the greatest teachers in the world.
Granted, the spaceship was fashioned with tin foil, the human heart was constructed out of tape on the classroom carpet, and my film was only a few minutes long, but none of that mattered to us because Mr. Meagher and Mr. Francis, our fifth grade co-teachers, inspired creativity.
They were the kind of teachers that had achieved legendary status, the kind that every kid wanted to have. Originally, I was placed into another fifth grade class, but my mom (a high school teacher that understands how important good teachers are), called the principal and made sure that the "error" was remedied -- and it was one of the best things to happen to me.
I still remember when Mr. Francis had a serious talk with our class about our classmate, Manuel. Almost all of Manuel's clothes had holes or didn't fit right. He didn't speak much English. After school, we would see Manuel walking around the city hauling garbage bags full of pop cans. Sometimes kids would make fun of him.
When Mr. Francis spoke, everyone listened. He praised Manuel as hardworking and honest, and told us that our classmate had to help take care of his family. He told us that it was wrong to make fun of people just because they were different or because they were struggling. He taught us empathy.
We were just kids at the time, but I still remember that conversation.
So on this Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to recognize Mr. Francis and Mr. Meagher for the hours they spent before, during, and after school to make fifth grade a special experience for me. But more importantly, I want to thank them for being positive role models for thousands of kids.
Mrs. Elee Hadley
No teacher made a greater impact on my life than Mrs. Hadley. As a brash, mischievous (read: arrogant and bratty) middle school student, I more often than not found myself either engaging in disruptive behavior or attempting to avoid work. Mrs. Hadley was the first person I remember who called me on my behavior. I remember one specific incident that forever altered the course of my life.
Growing up in rural poverty, eating free lunch at school, and often wearing second hand clothes, I entered middle school with a chip on my shoulder. I tended to hide my insecurities by boasting about accomplishments - both real and imagined. I was quick to challenge those who might see through my facade, and I was quick to dismiss those who wouldn’t play along. Mrs. Hadley, however, had my number. And, I am sure glad she did.
One day, Mrs. Hadley asked our class to write an essay about what we wanted to do in the future. In a somewhat defiant manner, I responded with, “I want to rule the world.” Mrs. Hadley in her ever-so-peaceful way replied, “You ought to think about being a teacher.” Her words stopped me in my tracks. No one had ever suggested that to me. Strangely, I felt as if she believed in me. And, that feeling stuck with me forever.
Despite a couple of detours, including stints as a college soccer coach and as a sportswriter, I found my way into teaching and education. I credit Mrs. Hadley with that. She did what amazing educators do. She believed in me. She inspired me. She put me on a path to success. I am forever grateful.
I definitely count myself blessed to find it hard to pick a teacher to honor this week. From Perry, Bressi and Greenstein to Grimsley, Bullock, Kaanapu and more, I’ve had an abundance of educators that were marvelous about choosing to see more in me that I did and encouraging me to always want for more. But Mr. Ferguson, you get the tip of the cap this time because if your uniqueness, outright oddball characteristics and how you showed us your love.
Like a lot of people on this blog, I was always a good-not-great student that knew what it took to excel, but chose to settle somewhere less than my capacity. In 7th grade my homeroom teacher was a guy that ran to school every morning barefoot (and mind you, not just during the spring or early in the fall, but all year long even when it was raining, snowing, hailing and sometimes doing that Eugene thing where it does all three plus sun in one day), he would eat spiders if we saw any in his class and would give a prize to anyone that could tackle him during P.E. His spirit and zest for living were unmistakable; everything was fun for him including our education in school and life. I started trying harder that year. Even now I can’t really tell you of a specific moment when I turned the corner of consciousness, I know the man that cared about his students enough to participate in all the games then stay after school/class to help you understand those lost lessons was an inspiration to me. All the great teachers before definitely planted a seed in me to keep me moving in the right direction or stop me, spin me around and point me back toward a better path, but in 7th grade I definitely found something new. I think I found that I wanted to have a zeal that was unmistakable in a way that permitted me to teach, serve and care for others.
Some teachers do so much more than teach a specific subject and curriculum...they are mentors, role models, and people who believe in you and support you. One of my teachers always stands out to me the most - Mr. Shannon. He was not only my teacher, but he was also my coach.
Mr. Shannon had a way of pushing me, and motivating me to reach my full potential. He had a way of helping his students view the big picture, and apply what we were learning to real life. Mr. Shannon connected with his students, and it was obvious how much he loved his job. We all felt that he genuinely cared for us, and our futures. Mr. Shannon is one of the big reasons why I decided I wanted to become a teacher, and I just hope I can be half the teacher that he has been.
To all of my teachers, and all the teachers out there - thank you! You're making a world of difference!!