Sunday, January 10, 2010

Roger That......

At last night's gymnastics meet, I saw my old (he probably wouldn't appreciate that) high school English teacher. He taught me both 11th and 12th grade English, whatever we took back then. I know we read Macbeth my senior year (as is still the case in most high schools), because I was on hospital/homebound (nasty bout with something the doctor couldn't figure out but may have been mono, despite a negative blood test) during that time and I finished the play before the rest of the class did.

Mr. Bailey was the smartest teacher we had ever known. But he was also REAL. And I still have a hard time calling him Roger. I remember that even as high schoolers, we were amazed at how much he knew about so many different things. He was funny, too, making fun of himself sometimes. I remember that he would put a funny ending on a word and then say, "Oh, there I go, slipping back into my native tongue." He was tough on us, but he taught us lessons that we never forgot.

I remember a vocabulary lesson in particular. He was teaching the word "dearth," and he was making fun of an administrator who didn't even know the meaning of the word. When Roger ordered some textbooks, the administrator said they didn't need them, because "we have a dearth of those already!" Roger was laughing when he told us the story, and I've never forgotten it. He swore it wasn't our administrator at the time, but I'd be willing to bet my next two paychecks that it was. That was the same administrator who marched up to a car my brother was sitting in during a rainstorm, demanding that they get out of the car and go into the school. Jack looked up and couldn't help himself - he burst out laughing. The principal, Mr. Underduck as we affectionately called him, was standing there in the rain with a clipboard over his head. And an umbrella folded up under his arm.

Roger taught me everything I know about writing. He taught me that you're never finished with your writing, and you're never finished writing. Once I handed in a very neatly written essay, only it was written on steno pad paper. (Does anyone out there remember stenograph paper? I mean besides Katydid, because she's the only person I ever knew who could actually take down shorthand.) Roger refused to accept my paper. This was in the time period when NO ONE had computers .... because they hadn't been invented yet .... and very few people had typewriters. But he certainly wasn't going to accept an essay written on steno paper. He made me rewrite it. And I respected him for it.

When I first applied to graduate school to work on my masters, I didn't have many professors from my undergraduate program who knew who I was. One of the many disadvantages of attending a large university. So I asked Roger if he would write me a letter of recommendation. A few months later, I saw him at a Mexican restaurant in town, and he said to me, "Honey, they're gonna think you're Socrates." He was so enthusiastic and had such a wicked sense of humor.

We were seniors the year the first Star Wars movie came out. We had Roger for creative writing, and Roger gave us an assignment to write a short story. One of the **ahem** nerdy **ahem** boys in our class wrote his entire story in R2D2 language. Roger laughed, admitted that it fulfilled the requirements of the assignment, and gave him a grade for it. He also told him not ever to do that again. I think many teachers would have given him a hard time and made him write a different story. Roger just admitted he hadn't seen all the loopholes and took some of the responsibility. But he still laughed about it too.

I had been teaching about eight years when an English position opened up at my alma mater, and Roger called me and suggested I apply for it. By that time my old school district had achieved a reputation for excellence that made it THE preferred place to teach in this part of the state. I thought I would die if I couldn't teach there at some point in my career. There were 255 applicants for that one English position. It came down to me and three other people, one of whom was one of my best friends and co-workers at that time. She got the job, and I would like to think it's because she had her endorsement to teach gifted students and I didn't. Yeah, that must be it. I have since come to the conclusion that I would never have lasted in that school district, alma mater or not. Because it (to a lesser degree now, I think) is considered a dream job for a lot of people, the politics are precarious. And I don't do politics very well. Still don't know when to keep my mouth shut.

Roger finally retired from my old high school a few years ago, though he continued to teach part-time for a couple of years beyond that. I don't know how many years he had taught before he came to us; probably not very many. But I've been out of high school for almost 32 years, so he clearly went way beyond the 30 years necessary to qualify for retirement. I admire that, but I'm certainly not going to copy it. I'll be out of there as soon as I qualify. Not because I don't like what I do, but because I'll still be young enough to travel and do some other things that are difficult to do because I can't just take a week off any old time I want to.

If I ever write and publish the book I've always wanted to write, I will dedicate it to Roger.

1 comment:

Maggie said...

What a wonderful tribute to Roger. You should send him a copy of this- I bet he would be touched to know what he meant to you!