High school in Small Town was a series of highs and lows. Really highs and really lows. Or maybe this had more to do with being teenagers than high school.
Looking back one could say our ups and downs were not all that significant, but they seemed so to us. This was true in studies, sports, romance, and even teachers.
In my time in Small Town we benefitted from outstanding elementary and junior high teachers, a whole list of them in the day when teachers took their professional calling seriously. Every teacher to whom I was assigned from 1st Grade to 8th Grade did a remarkable job of helping us slay the dragons of ignorance. In most ways they may have been ordinary people, but they were in our lives extraordinary teachers because they taught and they expected us to learn.
Changing culture changed all that, and not for the better. We got the first inklings of this in high school. By the time we arrived in high school waves of education reform and counter culture were just beginning to weaken secondary schools. Teachers were still in authority and students were still expected to “obey.” But this was a quaint practice, one undermined a little more each month with news of university student sit-ins.
It wasn’t long before the academic establishment rejected the idea one could know truth about anything. All things are relative, the postmodernists said. The logical conclusion of this illogical idea is that nothing matters, particularly religion. Students weren’t long in picking up on the “nothing matters” part and education turned into a river of hedonism, narcissism, and nihilism that still inundates it today. Very soon, it was “Make Love, Not War,” “Flower Power,” and civil disobedience.
But in high school we were still blissfully oblivious to much of this. And we were blessed with a few excellent teachers, no question—Mrs. Burns, Mrs. Crevey, Mr. Farley, to name a few. But we had our share of bummers too. Having spent a career working in academia and knowing what I know now about education I can say without fear of exaggeration that at least four, maybe five, of these people should have been sent to find their real calling in life—it clearly wasn’t teaching.
I’ve mentioned before the broken-nosed former prison guard who masqueraded for a time as our Physical Education teacher. Then there was the Health and Physical Education teacher who mostly got by on charisma. We laughed a lot but didn’t learn much in his classes.
Our nominee for Inept Teacher of the Year would have to go to our Physics teacher. He was a former Presbyterian minister and if he gave as much to his ministry as he did to teaching I understand why people didn’t keep him in the pulpit.
There were about 8 guys and 1 girl in the class. We were all college prep kids so our grades were good and perhaps this is another reason the teacher let us off the hook. Mostly, though, I think he was treading water.
For two periods in Physics class, that’s a good chunk of the day, we did one of two things, or both. Every day four or five guys would gather around this girl, one who was attractive, smart, talented, and highly popular, and basically vie for her attention for two periods. I liked her too and joined the group a few times. But I can remember thinking I didn’t want to be part of the herd, so I chose not to be.
Mostly I played chess. That’s right, chess. For two periods every day our entire senior year a few guys, my friend Larry Yoho being one of them, and I held Physics class chess tournaments. We got to be pretty good at chess but didn’t learn much about physics.
Ridiculous. I look back now and think about the wasted academic time. I wonder why the principal never showed up and how the teacher got away with it. I wonder how a teacher as lazy and unmotivated as this fellow survived in the system. But there we were, flirting on one end of the room, playing chess on the other.
I mentioned Mr. Farley and I should give him his due. In my estimation he was under-rated as a teacher by his peers and his students. This lack of appreciation stemmed more, I think, from his quirky personality and mannerisms than from his teaching. But he was, in a word, an excellent teacher.
Mr. Farley lectured every day, required us to take notes, and administered challenging tests. He asked us questions in class and expected us to know the answers. He clearly loved his subject and was nothing if not diligent in his pedagogy. I sat in both his U.S. History class my junior year and his U.S. Government class my senior year. In both I learned a great deal and consider this experience one influence in my later opting in college to pursue both a Social Science and History major and a teaching certificate.
Mr. Farley nominated me for an odd-sounding award called the “I Dare You Award,” which I earned, probably in large part due to his affirmation. He presented it to me at graduation and, though the name is funny, the idea was to think big, think bigger in terms of ones potential achievements and contributions. It’s a great concept, another large lesson in a Small Town upbringing.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
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