I follow the Facebook page for my old high school. It’s mostly posts about people that have died or are looking for old friends. Recently someone posted the question- What teacher, if any had an impact on your life? It got more responses than any post I’ve seen in the group. Lots of people wrote about teachers that were fun or gave them special help. Some people had detailed stories of how one of their teachers changed their lives, others posted fond memories. It started me thinking about those days.
I did just OK in high school. I sometimes made Honor Roll but was certainly not a class star. I was a bit of a trouble maker and was more interested in just having fun. Lots of fun. I was often told I had an attitude and a smart mouth. I guess that’s not the kind of kid teachers are moved to reach out to. So no, I didn’t have any special stories of some nice teacher that picked me out for extra help or motivation. I was just another kid in the crowd.
In Jersey back in the 70’s, the drinking age was 18. I was able to get a altered birth certificate that made me 2 years older. (don’t ask) I went to our County Office in Camden with my documents and got an official Alcoholic Beverage Card (ABC card) at 16. My parents knew and my Mom actually drove me to the train to get to Camden. Her only advice was not to call her if we got arrested. So off I went into Camden, the city with one of the highest crime and murder rates in the county with my false documents to fraudulently swear I was 18 and get my ABC card. Good times. Once that was done, I was able to legally able to leave school on my lunch period to go have pizza and beer. Life was good.
I balanced myself on the fence of getting in trouble (detention) but not really bad trouble. I remember the school ran a bus trip to New York to see the play Grease when it first hit Broadway. It was open to Juniors and Seniors. My sister is just 15 months older than me so we both were able to go. Before the play, the bus pulled up on a block that had a Burger King and a McDonalds. The teachers told us to pick one, have lunch and be back on the bus in 45 minutes. My sister always followed directions. She and her “good” friends had a burger and quietly waited to get back on the bus. I spotted a bar as the bus pulled onto the block. Some of the “other” kids and I made a beeline for the bar. We indulged in a 30minutes of Kamikaze shots. I hit my limit before the rest of the older crowd. It took great effort to make my way back to the bus. My sister immediately saw the condition I was in. She demanded to know where I had been. I pointed out the bar and climbed into the bus. I found a nice spot in the back of the bus and passed out. Poor Kim. She rushed down to the bar, ordered a drink, the bartender put in her hand and the teachers busted in. She was suspended and never even got a taste of that drink. She never told on me and I got off scott free. The teachers eventually heard the whole story but it was too late to suspend me. We were out of collage before my sister told my parents the whole story. I was always impressed with that.
Getting back to the Facebook post, did any teacher effect my life? I realized the answer was yes. It was my geometry teacher during my junior year. My grades were inconsistent. Some tests were perfection and others dismal. I was having so much fun, I guess I didn’t feel geometry was my priority. The teacher called for a meeting with my parents. My Dad always believed in me. He took off work to come to the school. As a construction worker that meant he did not get paid. This was a big deal.
We had a long talk and I told him everything. Geometry was boring. I wasn’t really trying. No, I hadn’t done all the homework and I really never studied. I promised him I would try harder. I was at the point in high school when you start to apply to colleges. I had only applied to two. I was in the process of applying to Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science and Rutgers College of Pharmacy. Dad said I had to bring my grades up before I sent my transcripts in. I had done very well on my college admission tests but that was certainly not enough to make me a shoe in.
The day came and Daddy and I went up to the school. Our meeting was in the Guidance Councilors office and I remember the other kids watching as we went in. Going in there with your Dad was not a good sign. We arrived and took a seat in an cubicle. We waited and waited. Every minute we were there was money out of Dad’s check but he stayed and tried to keep his temper. Eventually the teacher came in. He was self assured as he spread out papers with my records, copies of my tests and notes about me. He started explaining each one and how I had failed in each area. Dad stopped him mid-sentence. When Daddy was like that and he cut you off….if you had any sense you stopped talking. This guy pressed on. Wrong move. Daddy stood up. He said he knew all of this already. He said he wasn’t interested in ANY of it. It was in the past. Then he sat down. He said he wanted to know what his daughter had to do to get her grades back up. Set a goal and she would meet it. Mr Geometry was shocked. He wanted to go over all the failed tests. He wanted to talk about my attitude. Daddy was having none of it. He we move forward in this family, not backward. Give her the work. She will get it done. In the end, he said I would have to achieve excellent grades in all the remaining tests and gave me some extra assignments. Daddy agreed and left to get back to work.
All that is not what affected my life. It was this. After Daddy left, Mr Geometry said he wanted a word with me. He told me in a very aggressive fashion that I was “wasting my time and my parents money” by applying to pharmacy schools. I was not even in the ballpark for those colleges and it was best for me to face that soon than later. I was speechless. He must have enjoyed the moment because he repeated it twice more. I was devastated.
In the end I was accepted at both colleges and went to PCP&S. I had some ups and downs there too but I was blessed to have more that one teacher who came to my rescue and gave me the help and motivation I needed. I am still so grateful to them. When the going got tough in college, I often thought about Mr Geometry. I thought about this mean little man and living in his little classroom kingdom. I thought of the look on his face when Daddy stood up during that meeting. I though of my future paycheck that I could wave in his face.
Now I think of my profession and the people I get to help. I am honored to make a difference in their medical care. I close my eyes at night knowing I helped someone.
Every once in a while I also think of Mr Geometry and his words to me. I thank God that I was strong enough for him not to break my spirit. What kind of teacher tells a kid not to even try to go to college?
Mr Geometry was the one that “failed” when it came to me.