Monday, September 18, 2006


I've really been getting a kick out of Cruegirl's accounts of her adventures in the classroom lately, so I figured I'd take a minute or two and pay tribute to a few noteworthy teachers from my illustrious past. It takes a special bit of chemistry to make a teacher, about 2 parts selfless generosity mixed with 3 parts insanity. I even entertained the thought of perhaps becoming a teacher myself one time, for about five minutes, then I returned to my senses. I actually thought it might be fun, even rewarding, to be a high school shop teacher. Give something back and all that. Then I thought about some of the kids I'd had in my shop classes over the years, and knew full well that I would've done serious bodily harm to them had they been in my class. Nope, the temperament to be a teacher I do not posses, but luckily there are many out there that do. Here's to the ones that get the formula right.

  • First Grade - Ms. Helt - This woman was Adolph Hitler's first grade teacher. Ok, maybe not, but she did walk the same. Actually walk is a bit of a misstatement, this woman didn't walk, she marched, like a Nazi Stormtrooper, she even wore jackboots, I'm not kidding, ask my sisters. Kids with "problems" and "special needs" wouldn't have survived Ms. Helt's first grade class, as a result there weren't any. She ran her class like a drill instructor, when she said line up, you lined up. If you didn't line up perfectly straight, quiet, and facing the front, you did it over again until you got it right. One kid, an immigrant from another state, once made the mistake of smarting off to her. Moments later he found himself over her knee getting a yard stick across his behind and not a single one of us were surprised, we'd all had older brothers and sisters that had already survived Ms. Helt's Gulag. I don't know how big of a stink his parents made about the whole thing, but he didn't lip off in Ms. Helt's class again you can bet, and neither did anyone else. Now you're all probably thinking that ol' Ms. Helt was quite the meany, and nothing could be further from the truth. She didn't tolerate shenanigans, but if a kid wanted to learn she'd go above and beyond to make sure that kid learned all that he or she could. As a result everyone left her class more than ready to proceed to the second grade and beyond. I venture to say that there was not a single year in my remaining schooling that I learned even half as much as I did in Ms. Helt's first grade class. Everyone could read at what is probably considered to be a 4th grade level these days, and we all learned a thing or two about respect in the process. Ms. Helt probably set a few records for the number of years that she was a teacher, and because of that there's a whole lot of people out there who got off to a good, if perhaps a wee bit frightening, start on the rest of their schooling.
  • Second Grade - Mrs. Tenant - Still regarded by me to be the best teacher I ever had. I had teachers that were nicer, I had teachers that wore more strict, I had teachers that were less strict, I had teachers that were more fun, but never did I have another teacher that had it all balanced out as well as Mrs. Tenant. Discipline in her class was strict, but not so strict as to have a room full of second graders living in fear. When it was time to play, it was time to play. When it was time to work, it was time to work. Time was set aside for both and everyone knew which times were which. We did fun art projects, we played games together as a class, and we learned how to read and write and do 'rithmetic as well. She laughed with us, she yelled at us from time to time, but somehow she knew how to make kids want to learn, and we all did.
  • Third Grade - Ms. Gjierde - She was nice, perhaps a wee bit too nice. As a result a class full of well disciplined farm kids discovered all kinds of ways to get into mischief. She was the type that would allow the classroom to descend into near chaos before she would speak up and settle everyone back down, which although fun for the kids, isn't probably the best way to run a railroad. What she lacked in discipline however, she made up for in patience and generosity. My Grandpa was in the hospital in Billings that year and as a result I missed a LOT of school. Ms. Gjierde spent a lot of time with me in the little bit of time that I was there just to make sure that I got all of my work done and was allowed to pass. She even went so far as to allow me to stay with her while my parents went to Billings to be with my Grandfather as he passed away, both so I wouldn't have to miss any more school, and so I wouldn't have to be there when my Grandpa died. Usually when something like that happened, the janitor at our school would step up and offer to let kids stay at his house and a lot of them did but for some reason I just wasn't comfortable with that idea, neither were my parents, and neither was Ms. Gjierde. Many years later, it was discovered that he was a pedophile when one of my good friends finally came forward, as did several others. Thanks Ms. Gjierde.
  • Fourth Grade - Ms. Goroski - I was in her first class after her required year of student teaching. Had she started out in a big city school, this poor girl would've likely been swamped by a tidal wave of unruly hooligans, but in the tiny farm community of Plevna Montana she fit like a glove. One of the funnest years I had in all the time I was in school, and somehow we managed to learn a bunch in the process.
  • Fifth Grade - Ms. Petersen - For some reason she had a problem with my tendency to finish a work sheet in a matter of minutes, then immerse myself in a book while everyone else procrastinated and goofed off. As a result, I never had homework, everyone else did, and I got a "U" (for Unsatisfactory) in citizenship because I was antisocial. Go figure. Anyway, Ms. Petersen was famous throughout our school for coming up with the coolest art projects in existence, she even did the rounds of the rest of the classes "guest teaching" for at least one art project a year because none of the kids could wait to get to fifth grade and do stuff like that all the time. I'm still pissed about that "U".
After Fifth Grade, I moved to a bigger school and as a result had far too many teachers to remember, or write about here. I'll just hit on the ones that were noteworthy.

  • Sixth Grade Math and Science - Mr. Weininger - My first male teacher, and one of the coolest that any kid could hope for. He had a wild, mad scientist, way about him and so did I, we hit it off famously. He delighted when kids would bring in critters for the classroom, and as a result all of us boys and even a few of the girls were more than happy to contribute to the cumulative collection of bugs, snakes, frogs, toads, lizards, salamanders, crawdads, caterpillars, and all other manner of crawly things. Science was always my favorite subject, and Mr. W's hands on approach to learning about all things scientific was loads of fun. He didn't have to worry too much about discipline either. The fact that he'd often take a bunch of us boys fishing down at the river after school helped to make sure that anyone that gave Mr. W crap was gonna regret it on the playground later. He wasn't just our teacher, he was our buddy.
  • Ninth Grade Metal Shop - Mr. Russel - Taught me as much as he could about working with metal, even though the powers that be were hell bent that metal shop was obsolete and too dangerous and wanted us to just study a text book for the entire period. As long as we did a few work sheets and helped him BS the bureaucracy, he'd let us spend plenty of time in the welding booths learning something worthwhile. (A lot of us spent plenty of time in the welding booths smoking cigarettes and blowing the smoke into the exhaust fans, some kids smoked other stuff and blew the smoke into the exhaust fans, but that's a different story). Besides knowing just about every possible way that mankind could influence the shape and properties of steel, aluminum, copper, and brass, Mr. Russel was just a cool old boy, more like a wise old uncle than a teacher. He didn't have too many discipline problems either.
  • Tenth Grade On Shop/Vo-Ag - Mr. Larson - As far as teachers go, this guy was a god. In the three years that I was in his class as much as humanly possible while still taking all of those crappy required classes in order to graduate, I further perfected my welding skills, learned how to wire a house, how to hang tape and texture sheetrock, how to work concrete, how to shingle a roof, basically how to build a building from the ground up as well as learning a few things about running a metal lathe. We learned how to grow plants in a greenhouse, how to figure out streamflow, and how to survey land for an excavation project. As if that wasn't enough, Mr. Larson also got me involved in FFA Ag Mechanics, which allowed me to travel all over the state and compete against other aspiring gearheads in all of the above subjects. I kicked ass, won a few, got third in the state my Junior year and second as a Senior, served as a chapter officer my Senior year, and won a stack of other awards. They were some of the best times I had the whole time I was in school. When I got my first truck as a sophomore, Larson helped me rebuild the engine, then stayed at the school half of the night so I could get it put in before school got out for the summer. That wasn't the last engine that I swapped in his shop either, nor the last time that he stayed half the night to let me finish up a project. I've stopped by to visit Mr. Larson a few times over the years, but a few years ago he finally had enough of playing second fiddle to the athletics department and gave it up. He works for the County now from what I understand. Damn shame if you ask me. Hell, I've made a living for years off of what I learned in Gym Class . . . . . NOT!
  • Tenth Grade On English - Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Grosheider - Taught me how to write. These guys are the reason that you can somewhat decipher this jibberish that I spew. I'm sure that they don't read this, because if they did there'd be little red marks all over my posts pointing out my spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors. Considering that they didn't teach what was exactly one of my favorite subjects, the fact that they got me interested at all is a testament to their expertise. Grosheider even got me to write poetry for heaven's sake, and I friggin' hate poetry. Both told me that I had the makings of an outstanding writer, we all know that's BS but it made me feel good at the time anyway. They're a lot of the reason why I started blogging in the first place, they taught me a lot about writing and for every year that I wrote exactly nothing, more and more of that knowledge went down the tubes. Not only did they teach me how to write, they helped me to discover that I actually enjoyed writing, so now I do this as sort of an homage to their efforts.
  • Tenth Grade On Art - Mr. Culbertson - Big Dave as we called him behind his back. He had a really cool beard, and he played rugby in his spare time. He was a mountain of a man, and he had a reputation for not taking any shit, either on the field or in the classroom, so his discipline problems were nigh nonexistent as well. If you'd asked me before I entered his class for my one required year of Art, I'd have told you that I couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler. After I got done voluntarily taking 3 years of his class, I could not only draw a crooked line that looked straight, but I could paint a picture of a lowrider on a beach complete with palm trees reflected in its gleaming finish, carve a sparkplug out of plaster, and draw a pencil sketch that didn't look like something hanging on the wall of Ms. Helt's first grade class. Now if I could just remember how to do any of that stuff now. He had this really cool sort of old hippy thing going on too, I liked him. Besides being one hell of an artist, he was just an extremely interesting guy.
So there you have it, a brief outline of some of the outstanding educators that helped to make me the well balanced and remarkably sane individual that I am today. Just think Cruegirl, in 25 years one of your students might be writing something similar about you on their blog, or at least looking at their old yearbook and wondering why you looked so old back then, but you look so damn hot now. Excuse me, I've got to go find my old yearbooks . . . . . . ;)


T said...

Ms. Stevenson, 1st grade...
I had broken my thumb and wasnt able to write, she handed me a stack of National Geographics, full of big words, learned them all. I was then reading 3rd year college by the 4th grade.
Mr. Reehorse, 4th grade...
Came to class after Christmas break to find I was now a 5th grader, promoted as it were to a class full of big kids, I was reading, comprehending and writing at a Graduate level.
I started surfing seriously soon after...
They say I have ADD but I dont think-hey look, its a bunny!

Anonymous said...

tell us about your finger in your sister's rear end that you eluded to on RSM's comments today

Justin said...

I had similar . . . problems? My third grade teacher wanted to move me up a grade or two, but the asshole principle wouldn't let her do it. My sisters told me that when I was a baby they used to read the Encyclopedias to me just to hear me laugh at all the big words, hell, they're still some of my favorite books! My teachers used to get pissed because when we'd go to the library to get books, all the other kids were grabbing up all the kiddie stories, and I'd head straight for the nonfiction section. I guess they didn't figure I'd gain any cultural literacy by reading auto repair manuals from cover to cover, that or they were just jealous because a third grader knew more about their cars than they did. ;)

Oh anonymous one, I'd love to tell that story . . . . but I think I'll let you stew on it for awhile. At least until you shed your cloak of anonymity and at least think up a clever online persona or something. Besides, the offer was for RSM to ask me, and she hasn't, so there. ~sticks out tongue and makes raspberry sound~ ;)