Saturday, October 27, 2012
The first great teacher I had was Mrs. Marion Rogers in third grade at West Sand Lake Elementary School. She was the first educator to make me believe I was as smart and capable as any student in the room. That year, one of my classmates, Frank Burdick, died when his father’s tractor trailer rolled over and killed him in the passenger seat. That was the last straw for Marion, and at year’s end she decided it was time to retire the chalk, pointing to that tragedy as the trigger. Thank you for showing me THE TRUMPETER & THE SWAN, Mrs. R. I’ll love you til the end of time.
As a sixth grader I had a major crush on my science teacher, Jody Banks. She used to wear these black business skirts that showed her killer legs. One time, on a field trip to Thatcher Park, she posed for a picture with me, and I was in love. She even danced with me at a school dance, the song “Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul. In the end, she married the assistant principal, Stephen Beebee, and Jody B became Jody BB. I was going to fight Mr. Beebee, of course, he robbed my woman, but in retrospect, I have to say the man had great taste. Thanks for being such a sport, Mrs. Banks. I mean, Mrs. Beebee.
The first great teacher I met in high school was Tom Ladd. My first day as a freshman, when I made a crack from the back of the room, he pointed at me and said, “Hey, I could beat you up.” No teacher had ever spoken to me like that before. I loved Ladd immediately, and still do. I had him all four years. He talked to me about music, he gave me rides home after weight lifting. He liked basketball and went to Duke. A Blue Devil!! He let me call him Johan (Yo-Honn), he let me write goofy articles about him in the school newspaper, and above all I learned in his class, I really learned. When I was a senior I egged Mr. Ladd’s house with a few friends on Halloween, and I lost him forever. I’m sorry, Mr. Ladd, I don’t know why I did that. You’re one of the greatest men I have ever known.
As a sophomore I was lucky enough to be invited into Dr. Monohan’s AP Social Studies. Me? In AP? What has the world come to? I never took a class more seriously than his class. I wrote down every word he said. No funny guy in Dr. M’s room. I wanted to show this brilliant man I belonged. He had a funny way of talking and a doughy face, but my God, he was good. All I wanted to do was impress him. Being in his class is the reason I was able to get through college. When I was a senior at SUNY Albany and working at the Pepsi Arena’s box office, he came to my window to purchase tickets for a concert, sporting his usual pleated slacks, baggy cardigan, and big glasses, and I asked him what his advice was for me. He said, “Simple, be a teacher.”
When I was a senior at AP I was in Theatre Arts Class. The only reason I wanted in there as an elective was to hit on all the hot girls who wanted to be actresses. The T.A. Teacher, Mrs. Debra Baggetta, hated me with a passion. Her sheer loathing of me brought her to take me down the hall to Dan Fairchild’s Journalism Class, and dump me off on Dan the Man, an in-season trade I suppose. She told me she saw a writer in me, someone who’d one day put his thoughts on paper for people to read. I thought it was BS because she wanted to unload me. And she said if I ever published a book I’d have to bring her a signed copy. A promise is a promise.
For half of my final year in high school, I had the honor to learn about life from the last great teacher I ever crossed paths with: Dan Fairchild. A few years later when I attended my cousin’s graduation from Averill Park, Fairchild gave the keynote speech. It was about leaving your tattoo on the world. It was incredible. I still think about his words that day and quote them to people when I can. Last year I saw Fairchild again, and it was like seeing a celebrity. I will forever be a student in his presence.
With the exception of our obvious heroes like Lance Armstrong and A-Rod, nothing is more important than a great teacher. In college I had many "great" professors, but to me, college was a business, and the educators on that level had been hired by me to get me where I needed to go professionally. It’s the public school teachers that change lives and mold people. Nobody is more important. These people are the major players of my development. They saved my life.
But I would be remiss not to mention my fifth grade teacher: Charles H. Viens, known best for putting Simpsons characters on fake money. I did not have an overly-personal connection with him, but he taught me two things I will never forget, and isn't that what a teacher is supposed to do? 1) Morphographs. Basically this means looking at multi-syllable words by breaking them down part by part. Now I can never look at a long word without breaking it down into parts in my mind. Damn you, Viens, why were you so Fan-Tas-Tik? 2) And I think I speak for every student who ever had Mr. Viens, whether that student went on to become a hobo or Harvard Grad, we can all reel off the names of the Solar System’s nine planets from closest to farthest from the Sun. I feel like NOBODY except West Sand Lakers can do that off their head. So for Mr. Viens and all the great teachers I ever had here it goes (I promise I am winging this, no on-line help): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune & of course Pluto.