It appears obvious, but it’s not. I’ve had teachers who have educated, teachers who have administered. Some have delivered an agenda while others have followed a course outline. However, I can count on the fingers of one hand, and still have a digit or two left over, the teachers who have actually taught me something. So here I would like to have a stab at identifying what they gave me and why I consider it important enough to be a “Lesson”.
Miss Velma Sanguin was the ideal teacher for grades one and two. She followed our group of wide-eyed innocents from first to second grade and taught us in her gentle and caring way that school and learning were nothing to fear. In the hot early summer months, she would send a couple of the more responsible kids to the corner store for a case of popsicles to cool us off. She once invited Laurel Moffat & I to her spinsterish home for dinner with her mother, tea and lace doilies and dainty cakes for dessert. It was a gentler time and she taught me to love school and that learning was nothing to fear.
Grade three was a dark horror, presided over by a disciplinarian with a sharp tongue and a mistrust of all youngsters. There was a lesson here too, but it was not a love of learning.
Grade four redeemed my faith. Miss Pat Stewart was young and alive and gifted with a disposition that shone like a spring day. She loved this work she did. School sparkled and learning was a joy. Forty years later on at a school reunion where we wandered about those ghostly halls, now with children of our own in hand, a voice called out “David Black”. She still recognized me, and by God, I still saw the twinkle in her eye.
High school English has the power to sound a death knell for any appreciation of the language. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it at the hands of teachers with little regard for words or the way they are put together. And they had even less regard for the faces before them. Rollie Detcher was the exception. He dared me to explore the meaning of words and challenged me to step beyond the approved curriculum, anywhere from Joyce to Tolkein. He was old enough to be venerable when I first met him and his status only increased as I came to know him. Indiscreet smoke would curl from beneath the door of the English Teachers’ lounge from his pipe that was not supposed to be lit.
Rollie Detcher had little regard for conventions, either social or literary, and he passed on a love of exploration and curiosity to anyone willing to be taught.