Teacher Of The Year

May 22, 2012

Miss Chisolm is the teacher of the year, so sayeth the plastic-letters on the marquee of an elementary school I pass each morning on the way to work.

I don’t recall any of the schools which I attended awarding such an honor.

The students, of course, had teachers who were deemed as favorites.

Mrs. Winston in seventh grade was popular as she was young, good-natured, and the closest any of us had ever gotten to a woman who could have been one of Charlie’s angels.

Z was held in high regard with us as freshmen and sophomores in high school. He was a lanky cat in his early thirties with a well-played moustache who was a coach for some of us and entertained all of us with his irreverant attitude, colorful language and affection for rock and roll.

Not surprisingly, the young and the hip were often among the top draws.

There were, though, veteran teachers who, as the result of years of service, teaching generations of the townsfolk, were beloved.

Mrs. Sulley was amongst that group and was retiring at the end our freshman year in high school. She was kindly enough that the worst thing we did was blow soap bubbles in the back of class.

After several days, Mrs. Sulley finally decided to come back to investigate, leading my buddy Beej to suggest that the bubbles had emanated from his socks which he had pulled from a soapy washer that morning.

(she seemed amused by his inventiveness)

At the other end of the spectrum was Mr. Haynes, an emaciated doppelganger of Gene Shalit, clad in plaid polyester pants and sweater vests who taught senior English.

He had the reputation of being a bully.

Me and my friends were bright, bored, and creatively disruptive when we had Mr. Haynes for senior English.

It had all the makings of Thunderdome.

The year was devoted to Greek mythology and Mr. Haynes did indeed seem to relish his power.

And we drove hard to the hoop, antagonizing him as much as possible, daring him to follow through on his threats of impossibly difficult tests.

(as an added bonus, some of our classmates – some of the insufferably studious types – genuinely feared the threats which proved to be mostly bluster)

By Christmas break, the antics from both he and us were more like performance art than mere classroom shenanigans.

By the time the school year ended and we graduated, we would occasionally pop in on Mr. Haynes at home.

He was a bachelor in his ’60s living in an apartment complex. One of our buddies was a neighbor and he’d gruffly let us in when we’d show up at his door. Then, he’d gruffly question us on what mischief we were up to that evening before we’d make our exit to get started on finding some mischief.

Years later, home from college, my brother’s girlfriend recounted that Mr. Haynes – whose class she was taking – spoke often of me and my friends and how much he’d enjoyed the banter we brought to his class.

Yeah, he had been a bit of a bully, but it seemed he more so that he was simply bright, bored, and lacking in creativity.

Here are four songs that I know (or suspect) some of those teachers from the past might have enjoyed…

Stevie Wonder – Send One Your Love
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)

I had few music classes in school as a kid and not so much as a single class in high school. I’ve recounted the impact of the music that I heard in Mrs. Winston’s homeroom class in junior high school.

And I remember another teacher that same year, Mrs. King, had brought in Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants and played it to us over the course of a few classes, having us be still and simply listen.

I recall being spellbound, though I haven’t heard the album in thirty years aside from a few stray tracks. Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants was the soundtrack to a little-seen film on plants and though the album was apparently a musical curveball in 1979, it seems to be rather well-regarded in retrospect.

Swan Dive – Moon River
from June (2002)

I could certainly imagine Mrs. Sulley, the teacher who saw soap bubbles, enjoying the lighter AM pop music of the early ’60s. She likely shook her head at the racket of The Beatles.

She probably grooved to Henry Mancini’s Moon River, but, instead, I’m opting for Swan Dive’s version from forty years later because anyone with a yen for lush, ’60s-styled pop should check out the breezy and brilliant catalog of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder

Golden Earring – Twilight Zone
from Cut (1983)

Now Z was about fifteen years older than we were in 1983, so he likely would have dug Golden Earring’s Radar Love which would have been a hit when he was not far removed from being a high school student. But, a) I vividly recall him being a fan of Twilight Zone, and, b) if you turn on a classic rock station right now, you probably would hear Radar Love within the next twenty minutes.

Split Enz – I Got You
from History Never Repeats – The Best Of Split Enz (1987)

I’m going to cheat here as I can’t imagine Mr. Haynes liking anything much but classical music and the little I own I’ve not taken the time to rip to mp3 form.

However, during that senior year, our buddy Streuss took an instrumental from Split Enz’ True Colours album called The Choral Sea and recorded lyrics about Mr. Haynes over the track, including his famous declaration “I don’t care what I said last week and it has no bearing on what I’m doing today.”

I don’t have The Choral Sea, but I do have I Got You, Split Enz lone US hit, which also originally appeared on True Colours.

Herr Jack Heads For The Deutsche Ecke In The Sky

February 25, 2009

As freshman in high school, my friends and I had a choice between a language to study – German or Spanish. Several of us opted for the former for the sole reason that we knew the Spanish club made an almost annual trek south of the border.

We had our sights set trans-Atlantic (although the German club had only made that trip once). We placed our hopes in the hands of Herr Jack (as he was known to us).

Herr Jack’s surname was German and it translated into “bow maker,” a fact of which we were reminded daily. It might have struck us as oddly compulsive, but it did not strike us as foreshadowing.

His obsession with Latin might have provided another hint at his impending collapse. Entering class, Herr Jack would soon be delivering an impassioned speech on the value of learning Latin; his example would always be “caido” – to kill. He would ask for English derivations and we would offer the obvious ones such as homicide and suicide.

After witnessing regular performances of this skit, I prepared for the next occurrence, compiling a list and dazzling him with vulpicide and other words decidedly difficult to make use of in casual conversation.

He was impressed.

We just thought he was a frustrated Latin teacher.

Soon, it was the buzzing of the clock in the classroom that had Herr Jack’s attention. The noise was outside the hearing range of my classmates and I (as well as most canines), but it drove him to distraction, resulting in entire classes lost while Herr Jack bellowed – his eyes bulging and perspiration beading on his balding pate – about the non-existent irritant.

His antics grew increasingly puzzling. He would decide that a lovely winter’s day would be the perfect time to have class outside in an area he had dubbed the Deutsche Ecke (or, German Corner).

We managed to convince him that, perhaps, we should watch a Deutschland Spiegel filmstrip indoors rather than conjugate verbs in the sub-zero weather outdoors.

The madness behind Herr Jack’s methods became apparent one day in gym class. In the locker room, several of us were admiring the towel that Wayne, our school’s star wrestler, had wrapped around his waist – a simple white towel marked as the property of the state mental institute.

“I got it from my old man,” he replied. “He came back with a dozen from the last time he was in.”

We all nodded with admiration and interest. At fifteen, this was new and uncharted ground for us. It was like those kids finding the dead body in the movie Stand By Me.

“Hey, you know what?” Wayne asked, addressing us. “Did you know that my old man did time there with Mr. Bogenhersteller about ten years ago? They used to play checkers and bet on baseball games on the television.”

It wasn’t long after this revelation that we entered German class one afternoon to find that Herr Jack had been replaced by a portly woman named Edna. We would all drop German the following year.

For me, Germany would have to wait for another fifteen years.

I learned that Herr Jack passed away last week.

Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Jack. I hope that you’ve found a Deutsche Ecke which is warmer than ours was that February day.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
I’ve posted this one before, but couldn’t it be argued that it is the most widely-known German pop song ever? Also, we were Herr Jack’s students in the autumn of 1983 when we began hearing Nena on 97X. We managed to get him to devote an entire class to listening to it (the German version, of course as radio quickly latched on to the English version).

Scorpions – No One Like You
I think that I long ago reached a saturation point on Rock You Like A Hurricane. Besides, my friend Brad had turned me on to the Scorpions with their previous record, Blackout, during the summer of 1982.

Actually, No One Like You got a fair amount of airplay in our part of the world – on radio and blaring out of the older kids Camaros and Trans Ams that summer.

Fury In The Slaughterhouse – Every Generation Got Its Own Disease
I received a copy of Fury In The Slaughterhouse’s album Mono in 1993 and did find this song to be interesting enough to hold on to it. It’s hypnotic and a bit menacing.

Aside from the fact that they were German, I knew (know) nothing about them, but, on their All-Music Guide entry, they are described as Germany’s U2 and have allegedly sold more records than any other band in that country (recently, passing the Scorpions).

Far Corporation- Stairway To Heaven
Far Corporation was a collection of German session musicians put together by producer Frank Farian (who would later work with Milli Vanilli). Rounding out the group was drummer Simon Phillips and several members of Toto including guitarist Steve Lukather. I believe Robin McAuley (who was in the group McAuley Schenker with guitarist Michael Schenker – who was a founding member of the Scorpions) handles the vocals.

Their cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven got a lot of airplay on our local album rock station for about two weeks in the autumn of 1985 (I imagine the public outcry was deafening). This version must be a single edit as the version I remember kicked into a thumping, bass-heavy instrumental section that reminded me of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax where this one fades out.