Marti's Theory

Archive for June 2013

Yesterday I attended a huge surprise retirement party for one of my high school teachers.  He’s only about a decade older than me, so we’re from his “early days” of teaching.  He tried to retire awhile back but it didn’t stick.  This time – forty years later – is for real.  We’ve kept in touch during the past four decades so he has gone from “idolized teacher” and drama coach to friend and then finally – by some crazy twist of fate – educational peer.  John’s cool wife (also a teacher, btw) asked us to bring a page of funny or inspired reminiscing for a binder compilation.  I thought about it, thought about it, thought about it some more and finally – three hours before the event and true to form for me – I finally wrote it and submitted it to the binder.

But today I’m not posting this to honor him.  I’m posting it for all the teachers that I know.  We often hear “our educational system is broken” and sadly, I agree.  But I also see dedicated teachers slogging away every day, trying to make a difference.  And you are the reason I’m posting this now.  Forty years ago I had a good, no, a GREAT History teacher.  That’s all.  Just a couple years of my life.  I sat in a class, I got inspired, I did plays.  And I moved on.  Yet as I look at my life with the most objective eyes I can find, I see the influence that this one teacher had on this uppity, creative, high-strung (yes, I was), smart in a raw clay kinda way, small blue collar town girl.  So when you (and you know who you are) get discouraged and wonder why you do this, please remember this.  Every single teacher in the world may not totally rock, but ALL the ones that I know do.  Seriously.

First time I encountered “Mr. Minor” from afar – I was a 14 year-old Junior High freshman, newly and unwillingly transferred from Buchanan Jr High. My new friends and I were chowing  down on snacks from Minnie’s, while waiting for our bus when we heard the unmistakable sound to our left – a VW bus.  (really – nothing else sounds like those things – like they have a sewing machine for an engine).  I turned around and immediately asked Kathy Lucas who it was.  She explained it was Mr. Minor, from the high school.  My response was, “Wow … he looks just like Michael Caine!”

Most embarrassing moment in high school – I was late for The Miracle Worker rehersal because Doug Wagner asked me to paint a flag on the electric keyboard that he’d be using for the senior assembly.  As soon as I walked in to the rehersal in progress, Minor growled “You’re late!” to which I dramatically replied: “Well, I had to paint Doug’s organ!” Cheryl Williams burst into laughter, followed by pretty much everyone else in the room and it was just too much for my 18 year old cool/uncool meter.  Funny now, though.

Greatest influence on my career, first as a trainer and now as a college professor – On one of the first days of World History at Mingo High School, Minor had us each start with a clean sheet of paper with the only instructions being to “Write.  Whatever you want.  Anything.  Just start writing and don’t stop until I tell you to.  If you can’t think of anything to say, just write a word over and over.  But keep writing.”  Being a chatty 17 year old who was overly enamored of her own opinion, I had no problem filling multiple pages, and was suprised to see that many classmates had difficulty with this exercise.  At the conclusion, he explained to us that, thus far, we had mainly been taught to memorize.  In this class, however, he would try and teach us to think.  I got it and never forgot it.

Best foundation ever – 1971 was a very emotionally charged year politically, with Vietnam at the forefront of many heated debates.  What we “knew” was that – if you were old, you were likely to be supportive of it, and if you were young, you were supposed to be against it. Luckily, it was the year that I had Minor because he … EXPLAINED … it.  He conversationally and matter-of-factly briefly explained Indochina, used the ideas of pillars propping it up as an analogy, which subsequently explained why – even if the support was ill-conceived, there’d be a strong cause/effect response to removing them.  No one – and I mean NO ONE had ever done that. Now I’m not going to credit him for ALL of this, but I must say – this is the first time I remember being consciously aware of the value of looking at ALL factors of a specific issue.

Strangest revelation about the idea of “history” – somewhere in my thirties or forties, my husband and I came home for a visit and I decided to drop in on John, to see what he was up to all these decades later.  Now this was at Wintersville High School, and I had known him at Mingo High School.  So the school was different, the classroom was different.  But the chalkboard was EXACTLY the same – same handwriting and (I’ll be damned) the exact same notes on Hitler.  I joked about it but he explained, “History doesn’t change.  Our perspective might, but it doesn’t.  That’s why we study it.”  Dang.

And then there was a couple weeks ago – Sitting at Hillsboro Tavern with my classmates as we are on the verge of turning 60, most of us quite happy with our lives, not so happy with our bones and joints … I looked over at John – who I was trying to not talk to because I was petrified I’d spill the beans about tonight – and it struck me: this man was one of the most influential people of my entire life. No exaggeration, no shit. When you influence a person during those “formative years” the effect seems to increase exponentially over time.  And I couldn’t possibly be happier about that.  Okay, so he’s not really Michael Caine.  But I’d be the Lulu to his Sidney Poitier and – if I could carry a tune, which we all know I can’t – would belt out that song with my whole heart.

Ya did good, Minor.

 

*for the unititated, the song referenced was “To Sir, With Love” from the movie of the same name.

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