I started out to be a scientist, then defined myself as a writer, but along the way I became a teacher. Not an educator; that term is ruined for me by the fools in high places who have all but destroyed our schools.
I want to acknowledge some of my own teachers, but since I didn’t live a traditional childhood, this won’t be traditional praise. None of what follows will make sense unless you remember that my elementary school class had only eight students and my consolidated high school only brought the number up to thirty-seven. A larger school would have led to a different experience, even in Oklahoma in the early sixties.
My typing teacher was tough, knuckle slapping perfectionist, and she wasn’t afraid of public opinion. We called her The Warden. She was the only teacher who ever gave me a B. Dyslectic fingers killed me, no matter how hard I tried. She gave me exactly what I deserved and I respected her for it.
Later, when I was teaching science, my favorite exercise was a long term project where students had to build a gizmo to perform some physical feat. It was different every year, and they could only build it in class to keep their parents’ sticky fingers out of the works. Every year kids who only knew computer games and multiple-choice tests found themselves depending on their teammates who knew how to use hammers and wrenches. It was humbling to them; I smiled serenely and remembered The Warden.
My math teacher had a sense of fun. Whenever an unknown appeared in an equation, he would draw something barely recognizable as the back view of a bunny and say “That represents the number of rabbits in Rogers County”. His grin was infectious; he always looked like he was about to break into laughter. He kept us moving at top speed and made it impossible to hate or fear math. From him, I learned how to teach.
In science, I typically had read the textbook by the fourth week. I sat quietly in class and answered only enough questions to show I knew the material, then let the other students take their turns. My science teacher’s gift to me was trust. He let me work in the lab unsupervised except for his presence next door. I spent my study halls there building science projects, and that is where my science education really happened.
My English teacher gave me similar freedom out of a mixture of wisdom and laziness. I turned in every assignment early and better than required; in exchange I frequently wandered the school at will when I was supposed to be in his classes. I would never let one of my students do that, but it worked for me. I spent my time running errands for teachers, building things for the school, or working in the science lab.
It would have been a disaster for most kids, but it was the perfect education for me.
At home, my parents were hyper-controlling. Freedom was not an option. When I scored high on the National Merit Scholarship test and wanted to go to Michigan State University, they would not let me apply. It would have let me to move beyond their control.
My high school counselor let me fill out the application forms in his office and use the school as a return address, so my parents would not know until it was too late. He was putting his career in jeopardy, but I think he saved my life.