Despite my best efforts, every now and then something my teachers taught actually sank in. Not always for the better, mind you, but a few things sank in.
I remember one teacher claiming the moon landing was faked, although with that particular teacher it was hard to know how serious to take such proclamations. I also remember the same teacher saying that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes should sit for pictures and the “nobodies” should get to the other side. (I was Christian but not an athlete and not particularly keen on fellowship so I guess I counted as a nothing.)
Another teacher declared a girl in my class as “Most Likely to Become a Battered Wife” and would occasionally bring it up over the course of the year. I remember him talking about how females had a higher body fat levels than men and he said that he hoped the girl had the extra fat in her head because she’d need it to absorb the blows.
I also remember a teacher dealing with my hyperness and incessant yet random foot tapping by saying that if I didn’t stop it, she’d kiss me on the cheek in front of the class to embarrass me. It worked, although I was pretty good at embarrassing myself on my own. (Now days, of course, I’d be forced on to drugs if I tapped my feet too much.)
There were a lot of good things that stuck with me, too. I’ve already mentioned my issues with “wh-” words and how even Japan can’t break that. The teacher who threatened kiss me (Mrs. Gray?) was also a great English teacher. I also remember Mrs. Rickman, who invented the Vulcan death grip, and gave a great lesson on how a sheet of paper could go quietly into a trash bin without first being noisily crushed between teenaged hands. She’s also the first teacher I’ve ever seen attempt to bribe a student into not saying “ain’t” by putting 10 dimes in an envelope and taking one out every time he said “ain’t.” Any money left at the end of the week he got to keep.
I remember Mr. Fowler using a game to demonstrate how easy lending led to a farm collapse and depression in the late 1800’s. I still remember how silent those who’d been the richest got when they saw the year’s farm reports and realized they were busted flat.
The one that’s probably influenced me most as a teacher though, was Mr. Wagner’s “Who are you? and Why are you here?” introduction to American Literature when I was a junior. He basically told us that if we didn’t want to be in the class we were free to leave. In fact, we could drop out of school completely if we wanted. Our parents might go mental but they couldn’t stop us. The lesson was that if we were in class we were there because we chose to be there and, by choosing to be in class, we also chose to follow certain rules. I think I only saw him lose control of the class twice and there was the one time that everyone in my class cheated off one student when we were assigned to write about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance“. This was also his chance to give a concrete example of irony.
(For the record, I did not cheat. Rather, I failed to do the assignment at all.)
I use a variation of this talk here in Japan, especially when teaching high school first graders (10th grade). Many students who came through the system at the the school where I work got used to being able to get away with not studying and being difficult in class. The Japanese system requires that they attend and that the school take them. At age 15, after completing 9th grade, they can drop out. The bad habits they developed in junior high can persist, though, and even today a few of them were starting to revert to their old ways.
I wrote on the board:
You don’t have to be here.
If you don’t want to be here, you may leave.
If you choose to be in this class, you must work.
I said if they needed to sleep, they were welcome to go somewhere and sleep. If they wanted to talk to their friend, they and there friend were welcome to go some place and talk. I also reminded them that I could send them out if I needed to.
A few of them quieted down, at least for now. I have a former to teacher to thank for that.