Monday, December 10, 2007

A Dickens of a teacher

A while back I wrote about an awful teacher I had in high school and now I want to balance the scales, I am a Libra after all, and write about a great teacher I had in middle school.

Let me set the scene for you. It was fall 1973, my mother had passed away earlier that year, and I was still adjusting to life at Aunt Rageaholic and Uncle Adultery's house, as were my sister and my two brothers. We were all trying to figure out where we fit in the pecking order with my aunt and uncle's kids and the other foster kids they had in the house. My aunt loved to take in foster kids for a couple of reasons, the first being that she liked to have lots of people to control and to order around and the second reason was she wanted her friends and peers to see what a "charitable" person she was.

We, my siblings and I, were also going through a pretty severe culture shock. We had lived all our lives up to that point in the fast paced city of Detroit but there we were in rural Livingston County living on a farm.

They finished building Highlander Way Middle School in Howell, Michigan some time in mid 1973 and I was among the first students who went there that fall. I was kind of shy then and I felt really out of place when the school year started. I was convinced my cousin, Cousin Idiot, hated me and was going to kill me or maim me because he was, and still is to some degree, psychotic. It did no good to report his abuse of me because his parents always sided with him no matter what, so school was one place where I got to be shed of him for a good part of the day for most of the year.

Consequently I loved going to school. I loved getting off that farm for 8 hours a day and I loved not being around my nutty ass cousins and their parents. For a few blessed hours I got to be around sane people who did not shout at or try to pick fights with me.

It was during that year when I had the great fortune to have had Mrs. Platt as my English teacher, though I think they called what she taught "language arts." She was a round little woman with a big laugh and a head full of brown hair that she kept in a bun piled loosely on her head. She wore glasses and I seem to recall her wearing sweaters even if it was 80 degrees outside. She also had a passion for teaching and a love of books and of reading that was infectious, well she infected me with it anyway. I'll always love her for telling our class one day that it was okay to read and that the "cool" people were the ones who read books and magazines and stayed on top of the news and things. Since I had just lost my mother a few months earlier Mrs. Platt was my ideal replacement mother figure because she was warm, friendly, and she loved it when we read and asked questions. She was in every way the polar opposite of my crazy control freak rageaholic aunt who wanted us to clean her big farmhouse more than she wanted us to do our homework and to read for pleasure. I hated to see the end of the school day come because that meant that I had to leave nice Mrs. Platt who I adored and go back to my crazy overbearing aunt's home.

Another reason I'll always love Mrs. Platt is because on some days she'd wheel in a film projector and she'd show us movies in class. She'd show us great old black and white movies from the 1930's, 40's and 50's. I remember seeing many a film adaptation of Charles Dickens novels on those film days.
And she also screened for us some great old British comedy shorts. I must have developed my love of British humor in her class. Towards the end of the school year someone in our class complained to their parents that she had shown us a movie where one kid called another kid an "silly ass" and they made her stop showing us films, I was pretty steamed at whoever squealed. But Mrs. Platt took it in stride becasue she was a professional.

I used to wish that I could go home with her and live with her family, even more so after I found out she had two teenage daughters, although just what I was going to do with them at age 11 was beyond me. Even though I never got to live with them and even though I only had Mrs. Platt for one year and even though we moved south in the summer of 1974, I'll always have Mrs. Platt with me. I feel like she's over my shoulder every time I read a book or watch a British comedy. I've had good teachers but to me Mrs. Platt was the only great one I ever had.


Dr. Zaius said...

A very interesting story. It's funny how certain people stand out in you mind from your childhood. The ones that are in the forefront of your thoughts were either really nice, or freakin' awful.

BTW, I have a Brother Idiot. Perhaps we should intorduce him to your Cousin Idiot. With a little luck, they'll kill each other.

FranIAm said...

Oh Dr. Monkey... First of all, I always love to read about your life. In all of its glory and its pain, what a remarkable life you have led.. and continue to lead. I am grateful to know you.

Your words have such an ability to transport me to whatever it is you are writing about and I love that too.

She must have been just what you needed at that time and it is a wonderful story of how it goes when a good teacher is at work.

As for the silly asses who tattled, silly ass them!

SamuraiFrog said...

That was a warm story that I sure needed this morning. I find most people remember the really, truly wonderful teachers they had (the very few of them), and the many, many awful teachers. Great post, sir.

Missy said...

Oh I wish she had been my teacher!

Blueberry said...

Sometimes all it takes is one pillar of sanity to keep your head from caving in.

dguzman said...

Aww, Monkey. I'm glad you had Mrs. Platt during that awful time in your life. She's probably one of the reasons you're so cool and literate now. Thank you, Mrs. Platt!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I really hope that Mrs Platt (or her family) chances upon this post. I'm sure that she would be gratified to know what a difference she made to one little monkey.

pissed off patricia said...

My christmas story for next weekend is about a teacher who may have changed my life. Let's all toast to wonderful teachers. Many of them made us what we are today, good or bad ;)

barbie2be said...

you went to school/lived near howell? my ex-husband grew up at strawberry lake and went to school in brighton or howell before going on to UofM.

Liberality said...

My sister got divorced from her first husband and remarried a short time later to this guy who sounds just like your aunt was to you. He was just plain mean to those kids and always making them work. He threw away their toys and would denigrate them every chance he got. I couldn't believe my sister would let him do that to her children. I would go get them every summer and they'd spend time with us and I'd take them swimming, to the library, to nature parks, etc. Often I had to buy them some decent clothes and shoes because they had none. But as they got older and could do more manual labor around their property, the less I got to have them over to my house. It was usually only when it was convienent to my sister and her husband that I got to see them. Also, my sister would tell me some sob story and want to borrow money and for the kid's sake I lent it to her but of course she never paid me back. And I never asked for it back. They got mad at me too because I was "spoiling" them too much. I called child protection on them several times but nothing was ever done. They went to school authories and showed bruises but nothing was ever done (they had to go to parenting class which just enraged them and did no good). My sister and I are still not close because eventually she figured out I was the one calling child protection on them. She didn't speak to me for years then. But her kids, now grown up, all love me and come see me or write all the time. I still am not that close to my sister. Recently the youngest was going to vocational school but my sister couldn't cosign the loan because their credit is so bad. So I did because I wanted to see Brian be able to get away from them once and for all. I didn't get to see him as much as I did the others. My hubby wasn't happy about that but I do care very much for my newphew. Anyway, I wish you had had more than a teacher to help you with your situation when you were young.

Crayons said...

You stopped me in my tracks. First I am a recovering high school teacher, and I secretly hope that I touched a life or two that way she did your's. I used to wear sweaters in class because I didn't want the boys to look at.... well, you get the idea. Also, the writing in this story is just glorious. It's something about the combined voice of you as a grieving, pissed-off young man and you as a man.

kelsi said...

this is a beautiful ode. it's always wonderful to know what people truly appreciate.
doc, you are fantastico.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Dr. Zaius-By all means, let's introduce your brother to my cousin. That sounds like a great plan!

Fran-Thanks for your kind words. You are too nice.

Samurai-Thanks bro for your kinds words. I'm glad I could brighten your day.

Missy-I was she had been my teacher longer!

Blueberry-You are so right hon.

Dguzman-Thanks for your kind words.

Barb-I'd be honored if someone in her family read my post about her.

PoP-I'll be glad to toast to the great teachers and to piss off the bad ones.

Barbie-I lived in Howell on Triangle Lake Road for about a year and a half. Small world huh.

Liberality-That story you told breaks my heart. Believe me your neices and nephews will love you more than you will know for what you did for them. Thanks for sharing that story with us.

Crayons-Thanks for your kind words. I'm sure you touched a bunch of kids lives and that you are somebody's Mrs. Platt. :)

Kelsi-Aww, stop making me blush.

Johnny Yen said...

That teacher for me was Holly Haberle, my senior year English teacher. I'd planned on blogging about her in a post this week. She did the incredible-- get a bunch of bored high school seniors to get interested in the Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, Shakespeare and Aldous Huxley.

When I was a teacher, I tried to remember every day two things. First, was something an old girlfriend had said about people-- that sometimes when they're at their worst is when they need you the most. The second was to remember that you might give a kid the only smile and praise they'll get that day.