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.