A memorable teacher

Most people remember teachers for their positive qualities.  They remember those who listened to them, who had high expectations of them, who treated them with firmness and fairness.  I remember teachers like that too.  But mainly I remember Mr. “Jones”.

Mr. Jones possessed none of those qualities, but he taught me an important lesson, a lesson that has influenced my teaching every single day.

When I first met Mr. Jones, I was in the ninth grade.  He was the Health and Phys. Ed. teacher for all grades 9 through 12.  In the fall, when it was fair weather, we took our Phys. Ed. outdoors, playing softball, volleyball, and sometimes just running on the track.  Mr. Jones stood at the sidelines and watched us play and exercise.  He didn’t say much or teach us the rules of the game.  He simply left us alone.  Occasionally, he’d ask about our older brothers and sisters if they had already graduated.  He was aloof but not overtly unfriendly.

The Mr. Jones etched in my memory was the one who taught health.  In health class Mr. Jones stood at his desk in the front of the room and lectured.  “Today’s lesson is about proper nutrition.  There will be a test.”  This announcement was followed by 45 minutes of his monotonous droning about vitamins, scurvy and rickets.  His deep baritone voice had only one point of inflection, it rose slightly when he came to something important, or at least when he said something he believed we’d think was important.  That was our clue to write what he was saying in our notebooks, if we were awake at that point.

I had had boring teachers before, however.  And if that had been his only flaw, I likely would have lumped him in that category and kept him there.  What made him stand apart was his habit of nicknaming his students.  Vincent, a slow reader, was “Dumbbell.”  Mary Ann, a tall, plump, thirteen year old with a bad complexion, was “Blubber.”  Geraldine, who never could seem to stop herself from whispering in class, was “Motormouth.”  And on one horrifying day, I became “Guinea-Wop.”

Something I had done made Mr. Jones angry that day.  He turned on me and told me to shut my “Guinea Wop” mouth.  In retaliation, I told him I was tired of his teaching like a “Polack”.  He kicked me out of class.  I felt so ashamed, not only because of what he had called me, but because I had also done something unforgivable.  I had sunk to his level and reacted to an insulting name with an insult of my own. As a typical ninth grader, I had been unconcerned about “Blubber,” “Dumbbell,” and “Motormouth.”  Having been called a name myself, I realized the hurt of it.  “Sticks and Stones may break my bones,” but names hurt too.  I never told my parents about this incident, and I apologized to Mr. Jones in front of the class for calling him a “Polack,” the condition for getting back into class.  He, however, never apologized and kept that nickname for me throughout the years.  It never stopped hurting me.

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15 thoughts on “A memorable teacher

  1. This is a powerful post, Diane. I didn’t like Mr. Jones from the beginning of your post and I still don’t like him. You are the better person and I hope you can find peace in knowing that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That is terrible! I cannot imagine a teacher being so ugly to students. That makes me so sad for you and all those other students because I know it hurt each and every one! I agree with Amy, I don’t like Mr. Jones AT ALL!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How awful, Diane. What a painful, ugly memory. I hope that writing about it lances the poison from the memory and eases its sting. What an abuse of power and how sad that someone would choose to belittle and mock rather than to encourage. Your post will linger with me today.

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  4. Diane, I wish he could have seen you in your classes and the kind of teacher you became. I remember being at the mall with you when these really big kids – maybe just out of high school, maybe in college or the work force – called out to you and hurried over to speak with you, These young men were so glad to see you. The teacher you spoke of was absolutely so wrong he could never have been right. He did not deserve to teach children. Words do walk off proud, and it is almost impossible to call them back!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Times have really changed. I cannot reveal what my PE teacher said to us one day in health class, as “advice.” But there are so many more teachers to inspired and mentored me. I have to focus on that. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I felt hurt just reading this post! The fact that you can forgive this man speaks volumes to your character, Diane. Forgiveness is difficult, but you found the positive in a bad situation. I am proud to call you my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Can you believe that was allowed in school? People always complain today that kids are too empowered. Then I read your story and think I wish you had been more empowered. But then again… you owned your response and clearly you have not let him impact your life. It hurt but did not define you. Sometimes I worry that we make such a big deal over negative actions and words that we might end up giving them more power. It is sad to me that you did not have any adult to tell – no one else knew about it. That must have felt so vulnerable. Thank you for sharing.
    Clare

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s amazing to me that Mr. Jones could think that was either acceptable or helpful. I know times were different (I remember!) but still … I am inspired by the way you took away an important lesson from the incident – a lesson Mr. Jones would never learn.

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  9. This is powerful. We are always remembering what good we can accomplish with the words but we need to remember how we can also hurt and cut down a student. Your story reminded me of Mr. Moose or in real life Mr. Morrison. Hmmm, maybe I have a topic for another day.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It made me so sad to read this. Teachers have the unique chance to inspire and uplift. Name calling and ethnic slurs have no place at all in the classroom. It’s an abuse of power, bullying behavior. I’m so sorry you experienced that, although you certainly used the negative experience to create far more positive ones for your students.

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