Many parents right now are relieved that their kids have returned to school. For me it triggers didaskaleinophobia, the fear of attending school. I have recurring nightmares in which I am back in grade 13 facing nine final exams in five days which will determine whether I graduate to university or return to work on the swing grinder at Atlas Steels for the rest of my life. Naturally, catastrophe is avoided when I join my frat brothers in a pub crawl of Niagara Falls, New York.
I remember very few teachers, the bad ones now dressed like prison guards in my mind. I remember a few of the good ones with fondness.
Many years ago I took my mother Margaret back to an event at the church in Dain City where we used to live. Mr. Gregory was there, a kind teacher at Bridgeview Public School who had helped me with me valedictorian speech. He was also the coach of the school’s hockey team. My mother was quite pleased to meet Mr. Gregory again, and he, her.
However, when we shook hands he had this vague, slightly embarrassed look on his face. He didn’t remember me. I was helping him identify players in the photo of our hockey team taken on the day we won the district championship – Ray Arnott, Wes Boyd, Earl Nugent, Malcolm Ferri – when he asked if I was on the team.
“That’s me,” I said, the kid kneeling front and center on the ice, the one holding the trophy with the “C” on his shirt.”
Mr. Gregory nodded blankly but I knew he didn’t believe me. Just then an old school mate, the very statuesque Sharon Marr walked into the hall and Mr. Gregory rushed to the door: “Sharon! Sharon Marr! Good Lord, how long has it been?”
Oh yeah, I kept the photo.
From my years at Welland High And Vocational School I remember the chemistry teacher. He invented Zing which was a clear, highly alcoholic product marketed by Andres Wines in Beamsville. When dumped by the gallon into a brand new plastic garbage pail with an equal amount of Welch’s grape juice, it produced enough “Purple Jesus” to get an entire tent full of frat brothers through a long weekend at the Longbeach Conservation Park. We worshipped that man. However there are at least two summers back then that are unaccounted for and still nobody can remember his name. My lifeguard years at Longbeach are best recounted by Jimmy Hendrix’s hit song Purple Haze.
Then there was Mrs. Morrissey, our dear, sweet high school English teacher. Mrs. Morrissey was a vibrant and approachable teacher who introduced me to a world of reading for fun and learning about the English language for the sheer love of words. Mrs. Morrissey had a rule that helped her students increase their vocabulary.
“Say the word three times,” she would often say, “and you own it. Say it three times, and it’s yours.”
And every time she repeated that rule, a low demonic voice could be heard in the back of the room: “Brenda! Brenda! Brenda!”
I went to Brock University before transferring to Waterloo Lutheran University. Brock’s large class of English 101 soon learned that Professor Michael Hornyansky was the most memorable educator any of us would ever have. Professor Hornyansky did not teach English, he performed wonderful works of English playwrights live, on stage. Feared for his staggering intellect and encyclopedic knowledge you did not dare take your eyes of him during class. Just whispering in the theatre of a hundred or more first year students would warrant a laser-like glare from Hornyansky that sent you shrinking in your seat.
And there he was on stage, striding from side to side with his black robe flowing and the book in his hand, a script of lines for the many characters he played. And there she was, an elderly lady sitting in the front row, knitting. Unlike today, it was unusual then to see older people at first year university. But she was knitting which broke the rule that every eye in the house be trained on the thespian professor once the lights went down and the play began.
We could see that the knitter was grating on Hornyansky’s nerves and unsettling his concentration because every time he passed in front of this woman, he stopped and scowled at her. Of course, she was oblivious to the silent warnings because … she was knitting.
Finally, when he could no longer abide this discourtesy, he stopped dead, looked to the heavens and said: “By the way, did you know that knitting is a form of mental masturbation?”
A fearful hush swept across the class of stunned students in a place that quickly fell silent once more. All eyes, his and ours now narrowed in on the little old lady in the front row still deftly stick-handling her way through half a woolen sweater.
And without missing a beat or even a stitch, she said, with her head still down: “Professor Hornyansky, you do it your way and I’ll do it mine!”
Bedlam, the kind you see in news clips of Mexican prison riots, followed.
Is it any wonder I turned out the way I did? No, I won’t be going back to school anytime soon.
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