My Favorite Teacher
My favorite teacher was scary and mean -- but only in the eyes of those who had never been in her classroom. Those of us who were her students encouraged the rumors and bolstered our reputations for bravery, secure in the knowledge that she would protect and defend us with every ounce of her being, because we were "her students." What kind of teacher inspires such trust? The best kind!The other day a local newspaper columnist, the survivor of an abusive childhood, wrote about a teacher who had made a difference in her life. The teacher, she said, "made me forget what was waiting for me at home."
What was it I wondered about that teacher that was different? What qualities did she have that allowed her to reach a child who was so nearly out of reach? I don't know. I do know, however, what it was that made my favorite teacher special. I'd like to tell you about her.
My favorite teacher was demanding. Hers was the original zero tolerance classroom. "You didn't do your homework? Complete the assignment? Follow directions? Listen to the question? Study for the exam? Intolerable! You get a zero!"
My favorite teacher was flexible. Her zero tolerance policy was tempered with common sense. "My dog ate my homework" didn't cut it. "My dog was sick" did. "I got so interested in Chapter 6 that I didn't have time to read Chapter 7" could also be winner -- provided you could justify the chapter's fascination.
My favorite teacher was real. We were aware that she too had a life -- a full, busy, complicated, interesting life. But she came to class prepared -- and so could we. She carried her love of the subject matter into the real world and came back with knowledge and experiences to share -- and so could we. She had bad days -- and so could we. Once in a while.
My favorite teacher criticized us but never demeaned us. She wasn't above a public dressing down if one of us failed to turn in an assignment or pay attention in class or do our best. But she never attacked us personally, she always knew what our best was, and she never asked for more than that -- or accepted less.
My favorite teacher was fair. She was human. She must have had favorites. But if she did, we never knew who they were. She clearly loved us all.
My favorite teacher was "scary and mean" -- but only in the eyes of students who had never been in her classroom. Those of us who were her students encouraged the rumors and bolstered our reputations for bravery, secure in the knowledge that she would protect and defend us with every ounce of her being, because we were "her students."
My favorite teacher demanded respect, treated us respectfully, and expected us to respect one another. We were a family. We took care of one another. No excuses!
My favorite teacher was involved -- and she bullied us into getting involved too. "I'm directing the spring play. I expect to see every one of you at tryouts." "I'm the advisor for the school paper and I need a good sports writer." "You have terrific literary insights. Why don't I see you at the Great Books Club meetings?" This is your life. Live it!
My favorite teacher was the teacher. She didn't tell jokes or hang out in the halls or try to be our friend. She didn't talk down to us; we were expected to talk "up" to her, to meet her expectations, to seek her level.
My favorite teacher was enthusiastic and involved, demanding and fair, interesting and interested. She gave every indication that she saw each of us as unique and fascinating individuals who were destined to make her proud -- if only she could knock some sense into us. How could we disappoint her?
My favorite teacher of all time has to be my English literature teacher. He was called Mr. Radford, and Mr. Radford is my favorite teacher for many reasons, all of which I will go over as they happened. The course of events goes from my first year to my last year of high school.
Taught me history
My favorite teacher was my English literature teacher. He started out as my history teacher and made a first impression as a bit of a stuffy old man. He believed in god, even though most of the class didn’t, and he was known for shouting at kids. He was also oddly loved by the older students, and nobody in the first year knew why as we sat in class before him.
The world is flat
He started a lesson by telling us the world is flat. He said he could prove it and encouraged the class to quiz him on it. We spent the whole lesson arguing fiercely that the world was round, but every answer, reason or evidence we gave to him was thrown back with a plausible theory. He explained why we do not fall off of the end of the earth, and gave even more convincing reasons was to why a compass points north and south. As the bell went and we were all about to leave, he said to us, “That is the reception Copernicus got when he tried to explain that the earth was not the center of the universe.”
Had a triple heart bypass
He vanished and we were told he had a triple heart bypass. The support he got from the students was legendary. Shortly before he came back, our English teacher (who was also a fantastic man) died of leukemia. Mr. Fawdry was a great man and treated his students with the same respect he gave adults.
Came back as an English literary teacher
Mr. Radford came back and started to teach English instead of History. He was still the Principal’s second in command, but had decided to change to history. The man who now taught history was a spotty young man who could not handle the class. Veteran teachers had trouble controlling the classes, so having this man teach History was like throwing a lamb to the wolves. Mr. Radford always had control of his class, and even once told of the brainy kid in the class for talking too much (which was a great moment for all of us).
He thought he was history, but he still has a story to live
Mr. Radford stopped teaching history and started teaching English. It was weird seeing him in a new setting, but the class structure and respect level stayed the same. He did not even look ill after having the surgery; although he probably had a lot of time to recover, (it gets harder to remember these days).
Who is making all of this noise?
This was a classic line that he gave as he burst out of his English class. The hallways were always a riot as kids moved from one class to another. He was used to being locked in the dungeon that was the history department. The English class was next to the main hallway. He burst out of his classroom into the crowded hallway and yelled, “Who the hell is making all of this noise.” A young first year student who had only been there a week said, “You are.”
Teachers give you last year’s tests to look at so you can see what it going to be on the exams. They have you do mock tests and they point out the important stuff you need to remember. Mr. Radford gave quality advice that nobody else ever said. For example, he said to use the phrase “of which” in a sentence, as it demonstrates a higher level of English that will get you into the higher grade margins.
He was the only one to outwardly defend me in class
Most kids are bullied in school, and I was called names and picked on all the time. It wasn’t a physical thing, just a constant stream of name-calling. I was used to getting it all day every day. It was only in his class where he once said, “Would you leave him alone.” It’s strange how stuff like that is remembered. My Geography teacher did it once too. Mr. Whitaker said, “Would you lay off him” which is also something I remember because teachers used to just let it happen.
He was smart enough to see past Steven Cardwell
In an English Lit class, Mr. Radford said something about John Wayne, and for some reason I said, “Take it away pilgrim” in a normal volume but as a John Wayne impression. Steven Cardwell did a gasp and an “aww” as if I had said something very offensive. Usually, this made the teacher holler at whoever spoke with the assumption that Steven’s reaction was warranted. Mr. Radford didn’t fall for it. He just asked what I said and said no more about it. I had watched countless other kids get in trouble because of Steven, but Mr. Radford didn’t fall for it.
He taught me how to think.
The “world is flat” lesson really got to me. It is the first time I started to question what I am supposed to “know” and what is supposedly true. He taught me to think so that even in the later years when he was teaching English, I could see past the text interpret it in a multitude of logical ways.