Most of my public school education I can’t recall. I don’t even know who taught my second-grade class, nor can I remember the name of the boy who put ice down my shirt in third grade. Jerk.
But there is one teacher that will always, unequivocally, stand out.
As a frizzy-haired homeschooler, I trundled off to ninth grade at a Christian Reformed school. I had cheated my way through math, hated science, and was a rather lackluster quiz bowler. But history, political science, theology, and English . . . .well, I figured those were safe areas.
Until I got to my freshman English course. My teacher petrified me from the moment he stepped into the room. He was middle-aged, no-nonsense, and had, quite literally, piercing blue eyes. He carried a duct-taped hockey stick around his classroom, tapping it, twirling it, shoving it in students’ faces, and poking kids with it.
Pacing up and down the aisles of desk, he hammered us on our grammar. He snapped. He yelled. He slapped the hockey stick down on the desks of those who gave wrong answers. I got stomachaches just thinking about going to class. If I ever got a wrong answer, well, someone might as well have just thrown me under the bus. No, like, literally pushed me under a school bus.
But last year, before Christmas, I sent him a letter and a few copies of the Lutheran Witness. “Please be proud of me,” I practically begged. “You were my favorite teacher, and all I wanted was to get the right answers so you’d be happy. I’m doing something with all that grammar now. That’s good, right?” (I may or may not have been suffering from some small confidence issues that day.)
He sent me back a letter, and I sat at my desk in my cubicle at the IC, sniffling, while I read it. “I would like to start by apologizing for more than you can ever know. Looking back I wish I knew how to teach. So much of what I have learned through books tells me that my classroom demeanor was less than orthodox. Quite simply I did not know what I was doing.”
“Interestingly, what you saw as confidence I would call a giant smokescreen. Do you know that most of the time, in your class, I was a train wreck? Do you know how much a few of you intimidated me? Do you know that daily, for as long as I taught high school, I wondered if today would be the day that I would get discovered as a fraud? Do you know that when I went home at night, I prepared the next day’s lesson for you? Others in the room received the benefit (or curse) of having to prepare for students who expected to learn, expected to be pushed, and expected to push back, but I felt pressure daily to make sure that you received an education. For that I owe you a debt of gratitude. Because of students like you, I could never become complacent.”
Can you ask for a better teacher? A more memorable one? One who gets it more? One who renews your faith in the education system? A real, actual teacher?
I don’t think so.
I looked him up on Rate My Professor. “The best English teacher I ever had.” “His class is the hardest, but take him as often as you can.” “He pretends to be tougher than he is.”
Turns out, I’m not alone.