Do you remember your school days? I remember mine. Well, not in total detail, but well enough. So when I saw Michelle W’s Daily Prompt the other day, I thought, “I can answer this“. “What makes a teacher great?”
I’ll start by admitting I didn’t entirely love school. For the most part I found it uninspiring. I was bored. Not because I’m uber smart. Trust me, I’m not. I was bored because I wasn’t ‘engaged’. While what I was supposed to be learning could have been interesting (except for math which I detested), it wasn’t. At least not much of the time.
Because the teachers didn’t make it interesting. They stood at the front of the class and blathered on and on and on. They talked at the students. They droned, usually in a monotone, like robots. No personality. No emotion. No passion. No excitement. No storytelling. No imagination. No creativity.
What did I do?
Well, I must have paid some attention, because I always passed; but I was usually miles and miles away, daydreaming. Yes, I did get caught, on more than one occasion, and ended up with detentions, like having to write on the blackboard 1,000 times: “I will pay attention in class from now on”.
No, of course it didn’t work.
My least favourite teacher from all my years of school — public, high school, art college — was my 8th grade math teacher. He was Swedish and his English was not the best. He’d been a gym teacher but had an accident which resulted in him having a steel plate in his head. So gym was out of the question. How he got picked to teach math is beyond me, but he did. And it was just my luck to get stuck with him.
High school math was a struggle for me on a good day. Sadly, for me, there was never a good day with this, particular teacher. His communication skills were bad. And he just spat numbers and formulas at us. The chemistry between us (and I do NOT mean sexual) could NOT have been worse. I couldn’t understand him, or what he was teaching. He didn’t even try to help me. He was unable to change. I was unable to get it.
You won’t be surprised to know I was failing his classes. My parents got me a tutor, who I absolutely adored. When I was with him, I knew all the answers. When I was in class everything I learned with the tutor was forgotten. Thank God it wasn’t just me having the problem and half way through the year he was replaced. Math was never my best subject but, with the help of my tutor, I managed to get by. Barely.
On the other hand I loved my English teacher all through high school; and I am sure if I’m a writer today, it’s in large part thanks to him. He gave life to words, they weren’t merely letters on a page. He taught us how to ‘hear’ the words when we read. To ‘feel’ them. He took us to plays, and to the library. He made everything a story. We discussed the authors, the setting, the context, the language, the emotions, the reactions, the interactions.
It was magical.
He didn’t just stand at the head of the class and talk. We sat, together, and discussed and debated and agreed and disagreed. We formed opinions. We participated. He shared his love of language and storytelling with us. We were ‘infused’ with it; and we developed a passion of our own.
To this day I remember his name. Mr. Boswell. And I could paint a picture of him, I see him so vividly. He seemed old to me at the time. He was probably in his mid-to-late 30s or early 40s at the most. He was about 5’10 and very slim. He had dark, wavy hair and a mustache and he wore glasses. He wore bow ties, white shirts, tweed jackets and slacks — usually brown. He was exactly what you might have imagined an English teacher to look like. At least I think so. I always pictured him smoking a pipe and sitting in a book-lined room, sipping sherry or brandy or whisky while he enjoyed a book.
There’s nothing I’d like more than to find myself in a conversation with him now. I think he’d be really happy to know I’m a writer. I wish he could read, and critique, my work. I know he’d make it better.