Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Worst Teacher Ever

Post by Rodger Wilming: This is Rodger's 3rd post on TSLG1440. Rodger is in his 15th year of teaching Language Arts at Bettendorf High School. 

The worst teacher I ever had left me with the longest lasting lesson of my academic career, both as a student and as a teacher. The year was 1977; I was a junior at Davenport West High School. I loathed school (except for certain language arts teachers, all young and pretty as I recall). I would do anything to avoid the daily, bell-to-bell grind. Fortunately, I was able to take an afternoon, off-campus electronics repair course and spend less than half a day at Old Davenport West running from bell to bell with nearly 2,000 other beat-down students. All we did the first two weeks was pass around boxes filled with dusty vacuum tubes from obsolete TVs and radios and take lecture notes. I was more bored doing that than running from bell to bell.

Finally, about a month into the course, we were assigned a topic to research and report on in a formal paper. Now we were talkin’ my language. I was an Ace at formal essays. My young/pretty language arts teachers had told me so on numerous occasions.

My topic was Guglielmo Marconi, The Godfather of the Wireless Radio. I spent the weekend crafting and editing my masterpiece. I proudly placed it on Mr. M.’s desk Monday afternoon and waited with bated breath for its triumphal return. When I arrived to class a couple of days later, my paper was resting at my place in the electronics lab along with everyone else’s. I eagerly snatched up my magnum opus only to discover a serious mistake had been made. My teacher had scribbled a bright red “C-” on the top of the first of four, well-crafted pages. When I asked about his obvious oversight of my paper’s genius, he grumbled, “That’s the score and that’s that.” Then he walked away.

I reacted the way any rational, red-blooded, sixteen-year-old boy would: I ripped the paper horizontally, creating a new, eight-page paper. Then I tore it vertically, magically turning eight pages into sixteen. Then I crumpled it up like a ball and tossed it into the nearest circular file I could see from my seat. In it went, swish. No rim.

Just as I leaned back to bask in the glory of my accomplishment, I felt myself being lifted from my chair. Someone had a hold of my arm from behind and was pulling hard… wrath of God hard. Of course it was Mr. M. Now, I had developed a reputation of being a bit of a BA back in the day; obviously Mr. M. hadn’t gotten the memo. Fortunately, my best friend at the time saw the whole thing and quickly said, “You better let go of him, Mr. M.” Mr. M. liked my buddy and decided he might be right about letting go of my arm.

Everything worked out.  The principal of the school (who happened to attend my church at the time) talked to me. Then he talked to my teacher. My paper was returned the next day (magically taped into four pieces with a much higher grade at the top). My semester grade was awful, but I knew there would be paybacks.

Fast forward twenty years. I had an old truck. It had a broken radio… a tube-type radio. Yep, I needed the last person I should have ever considered to repair an obsolete radio for me. I called Mr. M. (he was in the book), told him my name and set up a time to drop off my radio. When I showed up at his house he answered the door with a framed photo in his left hand. It was then that I remembered how he’d told us that he had taken a photo of every class he’d ever taught. I realized, right then and there, that it was clearly time for me to eat some major crow. Before I could say a word, he held up the picture and said, “We had some trouble when you were my student didntt we?”

I had to think quickly. In just a second or two, I heard myself say, “Yes, sir. Yes we did.

“What was that about? Do you remember?” he asked.

And then it hit me. I said, “Yes, yes I do. You asked me to write a paper on Marconi’s wireless radio and I wrote a paper on Guglielmo Marconi, The Godfather of the Wireless Radio.” I had nothing more to say. Neither did Mr. M.

Finally, he stuck out his right hand, shook mine and said, “I thought it was something like that.” He set the picture down, took the truck radio from under my arm, smiled and said, “Come on in. Let’s take a good look at this old girl.”

I saw Mr. M. just twice more after that day: once to pick up my perfectly repaired tube radio and once when my parents and wife had taken me out to dinner. They were perturbed at me, I recall, because I couldn’t tear myself away from a serendipitous conversation with Mr. M. and his wife who just happened to be dining in the same restaurant we’d chosen that night.  I stumbled across Mr. M.’s obituary in the newspaper a while back. It reminded me that most ugly situations can be resolved, if not completely avoided, with just a small measure of understanding.

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