Teachers I have known, part 2:
Mr. B was my best all-time English teacher, which is a distinction I do not give lightly. On the first day of his English class, he said “All right, raise your hand if you’re happy with a C in this class.”
He got the expected high-school response to unexpected questions, which was dull silence and confusion.
“I’m serious. If you would like to walk out of this class with a C average, raise your hand now.”
About a quarter of the class did raise their hands.
“Very well.” he said. Then he nodded. “You’re dismissed. Door’s behind you. See, the thing about Nth grade English is that we’ve got the standardized tests coming up, and that means I can’t actually fail you. So, here’s my deal; if you’re not interesting in learning, fine. Just don’t disrupt class for the people who are, and you get your C.”
About half of the people who raised their hands did file out. Most of them remained congregated near the door; we had the class in the school theater area due to lack of available classrooms, and it was prime monitor-dodging territory.
And it was an educational class, taught at the brisk pace of an honors class, to many students who would never be tracked into an honors class, but damn well could learn like they were once you pulled out the disruptive idiots.
I feel bad for Mrs. C, I really do. She had the bad luck of following my math career through my entire high school period as a math student. When she moved classes, it was always to the class I ended up taking. And boy did I give her a hard time. It wasn’t that she didn’t know her stuff; she did, and that made it fun for me. But she also was cognizant that she was teaching students other than me, whose parents hadn’t forced their children to memorize multiplication tables to the point of tears, who hadn’t used sneaky social engineering to get their child to read Math for Smarty Pants at a young age, who didn’t get an engineer friend of theirs to do some extra summer-school drills of the more finicky bits of high school calculus.
I was, in short, overprepared for my high school math curriculua. And as a result, I was terribly, terribly bored. Bored, clever students are not the best way to a peaceful, predictable class.
I didn’t disrupt class, exactly. Instead, I focused on asking tricky questions, especially when Mrs. C told us an almost-true statement without qualifying it.
On the other hand, I showed up every day with my homework, and while I might argue ferociously about how my method for integrating that clearly, obviously wasn’t me getting the decimal approximation on my graphing calculator and working back from there, I at least did the work.
She got me back but good a few times, though. She was a damn fine math teacher and knew her material cold, and when I stumbled into areas in which I hadn’t had extra preparation, I either learned to humble myself or she’d do it for me. Then there was my senior year. I had made the realization that I needed to correct the last half-decade’s worth of improper socialization all at once, and so approached trying to learn how to do normal human things and care about what other humans thought of me with my usual methods.
And so, in stats class, I looked upon Mrs. C teaching, had a fundamental realization, and recognized a pattern I had heard discussed, but had never really understood for myself.
“Oh!” I exclaimed, overcome with understanding.
Mrs. C sighed. “Yes, Robert?”
“I just realized your blouse, pants, and shoes all match.”
“Yes, Robert. Well done. This is what I like to technically call an ‘outfit’.”
“Oooh.” I said, as the class twittered. Being laughed at didn’t bother me.
But that’s a story for another time.