Monday, April 09, 2007

Teachers, Part 3

Meanwhile back in the schoolroom.

When we hit High School, those of us who would probably attend college ended up with fewer choices than those who might or might not choose to further their education. If you were on the college plan you took both Algebra I & II, Geometry and Trig, Physics and Chemistry. I was the only girl in my class who was definitely on the college plan. This had some benefits and some disappointment attached. On the positive side I managed to avoid a year of P.E. because the only way Physics could be worked out for all was to schedule it opposite the girls' P.E. class. On the downside, the science teacher and I nearly came to blows that year because he was an arrogant ass who plainly did not think a girl should make the top grade in his class.

Mr. S was one of only two teachers who ever caused my parents to request an audience with the administration over unfair grading practices. I'm not sure what exactly was said in that meeting but the bottom line was that I was excused from taking Chemistry the next year because neither the administration or my parents or me or Mr. S wanted to go down that road again. (The irony is that two years later I garnered 4 hours of Chemistry credit on my college entrance exams. Go figure.) The man was impossible and continued to be for many years. Sad to say, he did not come to a happy end, which goes to show that you reap what you sow.

The other teacher who earned my parents' wrath taught English for part of one year. Mr. P was undoubtedly the worse excuse for a teacher I ever encountered. (Well, there was that Economics professor in college who might tie him for that position.) Anyway, Mr. P's idea of teaching English was to have us copy articles from magazines, day after day. The boys in the class learned to get him talking about one of his pet topics and while they shot the breeze, the rest of us were laboriously copying article after article. His idea seemed to be that we would learn sentence construction by osmosis. His Waterloo came when he began to dole out grades based on who kissed up the best. It did not take long for the administration to realize that something was wrong when below average students began making As and normally A-students were making below standard grades. He departed before the year was half-over and was replaced with Mrs. Bird, the superintendent's wife and one heck of an English teacher. I, for one, was relieved and delighted to see her. The brown-nosers were not.

Mrs. Bird appreciated the fact that I could write a coherent sentence and studied hard. At the end of the year she awarded the English medal to me, a mere Freshman. I suspect this shocked the older students. I know it floored me.

Mr. Stewart took over English for the rest of our High School years. He was a genial soul who had known most of us for years. He came from a nearby town and had dated one of the popular high school girls when we were in elementary school. Under normal circumstances he would probably have been eaten alive, but due to his pre-existing popularity and the fact that he was a competent teacher, he had a long and successful career. I was very fond of Mr. Stewart, who also attended our church and for a short while lived across the street from us. There was one time, however, when I couldn't keep quiet about a misstep he was making. We were studying the Greek play Antigone, and he persisted in pronouncing it Anti-gone. This went on for several days, until he asked me to either read a passage or answer a question, and I pronounced it An-tig-o-nee. He remarked later to my parents that he realized in that moment that I had known more about the lesson than the teacher.

One of the all-time best teachers I ever had was Mrs. Harral, who taught math. She was also in charge of the school library and several of my study halls and ended up as our class sponsor, so we saw a lot of each other. She tolerated no nonsense, but she had a good sense of humor and she knew just about everything there was to know about math. I remember during the long, excruciating experience that was Algebra II, I began to flounder for awhile. My straight A average dropped to a B in her class. My father, ever the helpful soul, teased me unmercifully until she stepped in and told him there was nothing wrong with a B and to leave me alone. (Considering his track record in college math, he really had no right to criticize.)

We're about half-way through the High School years at this point. Stay tuned for part 4.


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