Monday, March 2, 2009

"To Sir, With Love - Part C"

I’m not sure teachers were supposed to sing in class. I’d sing all the time. “Fifties” songs, but I’d change the lyrics:






I loved Hazel Brown. Not in a “register with the police” kind of a way. Hazel just tickled the heck out of me. A brightly attired, round-faced girl, whose diligently tended hair showcased an impressive presentation ribbons and parts. Hazel endured my singing with…what’s the word…forbearance. There was the tolerance of an eleven year-old child. Less “I’d wish he’d stop” than “My teacher is crazy.”

Hazel did this thing that totally knocked me out. I had given the class four “sums” (addition problems) to work on. The procedure was, that when a student finished their work, they would bring it up for to me check. Some students were faster, some slower, some were skillful, some did well one day and poorly the next, some didn’t have a clue... It ran the gamut.

Everyone had finished their “sums.” Except for Hazel. I walked over to her desk to see what was going on. I checked her work. In the time the other students had taken to finish four sums, Hazel Brown had answered two. But she had gotten them both correct.

I said,

“Nice goin’, Hazel. You got both problems right. Now do the other two.”

To which Hazel replied,


Well…this was one of many occasions when one of my students would announce,

“Sir’s loffing.”

I was. And I couldn’t’ stop. Hazel Brown had nailed me to the wall. (“Payback” for the singing?) Ignoring how long she took to complete them, if Hazel understood the underlying concept, which she proved by answering the two questions she had worked on correctly, what purpose did it serve to complete the other two?

“Why are you loffing, Sir?”

I couldn’t explain it to them. I just was.

For one reason or another, there was a lot of “loffing” in my class. Short on “professional” wardrobe, I had bought myself a suit. I had visited some Discount Tailors’ and purchased an inexpensive, gray, wool suit, with narrow, black stripes, and some serious shoulder pads. (It must have thrown off some unmistakable Euro-vibe, because when I wore it back in Canada, my brother, with a keen eye for the embarrassing, took to calling me Geppetto.)

I’m perched on the front edge of my desk, regaling my students with some quasi-educational story of some sort. At the high point in the narrative, for effect, as I slide forward to get off the desk, I detect this exaggerated ripping sound. We’re talking about an “effect” generally reserved for Three Stooges movies, an extended….


It seems there’d been a nail sticking up from my desk, and sliding off of it, I had rrrrrrrrrripped the trousers of my new suit. There was no question as to what had taken place, though to that point, my students remained oblivious.

“Why are you loffing, Sir?”

I knew it would be impossible to conceal my misfortune for the remainder of the day. Having no other choice, I turned around and revealed…severely torn trousers, and a lot of skin. And possibly underwear.

Now we were all loffing.

I imagine all teachers – and I include myself in that group only marginally – will identify with this observation about the work. There were days that dragged so excruciatingly, it felt as if the clock were going backwards. You came home and immediately went to bed. Other days were so sublimely pleasurable, you couldn’t believe they were actually paying you to show up.

My students were hardly easy (and it didn’t help that I had no idea how to teach.) The classroom that was really a storage closet required hyperactive students to be virtually penned in for hours. Many had to literally climb over desks to get out. They didn’t mind, though. These kids liked to climb. One of my regular tasks was to exhort them to come down from the window sills, where they’d ascended to call to out to “mates” they’d caught sight of through the window (when they should have been listening to me.)

There was crosstalk. Obliviousness to decorum. Angry exchanges. The occasional scuffle. Once, my patience overcome by frustration, I clipped a repeat offender with a ruler. That still feels bad. If the boy happens to be reading this, I apologize.

The real source of my frustration was less student unruliness than this. I had no idea what I wanted to be, but I knew it bore no resemblance to my current circumstances. I felt like a kid who had departed so far of the beaten path, they were afraid Santa would never be able to find them.

Delete “Santa.” Insert “my destiny.”

Once, as I sat in the Teachers’ Room during recess, fortifying myself with a bracing “cuppa” (that’s tea), when my expression looked so funereal, it elicited comment.

“Don’t worry,” Mr. Rowbotham, a teaching “lifer” reassured me, thinking I was agonizing over some disastrous possibility, “it probably won’t happen.”

I looked up from my cracked teacup and replied,

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

As I’ve confessed elsewhere, I’m the kind of person who never appreciates things till (often long) after they’re over. My teaching experience was a memorable one. Memorable enough to have written three posts about it.

And a concluding post tomorrow.


Jess Kiley said...

You definitely don't seem like the professor type. By the way, tell your buddy Lorne he made an excellent choice with Jimmy Fallon, and his first guests...DeNiro, Timberlake, and classics musician, Van Morrison. Loved the blonde mom demographic! More of the same, please!!

Kim nee Holder said...

Fantastic reading. Thank you.