Each summer in late August my thoughts turn to school. While my most recent school memories are the ones when I sat at the big desk over a 32-year teaching career, recently, while sharing breakfast with a pal, we spoke of our days as LCC students.
When I think back to my late 1960s school days, those times of such social upheaval and seminal historic moments, I also think about how much my old school, LCC, has changed.
The school was so much bigger. The late ‘60s enrollment for grades 9-12 was close to a thousand, while the current enrollment is less than 300. Tuition has changed dramatically as well. I remember bringing a tuition check in each month to turn over to the business office for $12. The current tuition, with fees included, comes to $7,160 annually.
Recently, I had breakfast at LuLu’s with Jim O’Neill, who snagged his LCC diploma five years after I grabbed mine in 1969 and, these days, so capably fills the dual role of my knee doctor and good friend.
While we ate, we discussed the bond which unites us beyond our common birth date of June 7, in other words, our LCC days. Despite the five-year age difference, there were more than enough teachers we shared to construct most of our conversation with some stories of those we didn’t thrown in along the way.
As we talked about our teachers, a common thread emerged. While youthful arrogance prevented us from seeing it at the time, with the clarity that a well-cleaned rearview mirror can provide, it was evident that we indeed did have some terrific mentors.
One teacher that had moved on before Jim arrived was Paul Temple, my freshman biology teacher. Mr. Temple was short in stature but long on knowledge of his subject matter. The part-time farmer with the slight speech impediment that, in Elmer Fudd-like fashion turned “r’s” into “w’s,” by year’s end indeed made himself a memory.
I can still recall his description of flagellum, that hair-like appendage in living organisms that specializes in locomotion, which Mr. Temple said with such great flair would “whip and snap and cwackle and bob!”
I also recalled for Jim how Mr. Temple would make it known that there would be a pop quiz some days through the prayer with which he always began class. The prayer was short, as in “Mawy, Queen of Peace, pway for us.” However, on quiz days, there would be a slight alteration in the prayer, as in, “Mawy, Seat of Wisdom, pway for us!”
Each prayer had a long dramatic pause after the Blessed Virgin’s name, so there was a sense of drama and, on those quiz days, the word wisdom would be drawn out with about four extra vowels. The latter version of the prayer always prompted a chorus of groans from us.
As for someone who came along after I graduated that impacted Jim, the good doc told me a story about Fred Jamroz, a no-nonsense economics teacher and coach and a devout Notre Dame grad, as evidenced by his naming the four plays that he taught his frosh basketball players after the four writers of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Recalled Jim, “I can remember before class started talking with a classmate, and I was doing what teenagers often do, explaining how misguided I thought someone was, demonstrating that old ‘I’ve-got-it-all-figured-out’ attitude. Well, Mr. Jamroz overheard me and halted me in mid-sentence when he boomed out, ‘Hey! Everybody’s got a story to tell!’”
And, counting the contraction as one, with seven words, he provided what I’m pretty sure was that day’s most valuable lesson, that all of us are here pretty much doing our best in our own way, and it would a pretty good idea to holster that youthful arrogance and be more understanding and tolerant of others.
Jim and I also spoke of the impacting teachers we both had, memorable ones such as Bill Clark, who introduced us to the wonders of the tachistoscope in his speed-reading class, a teacher who could both intimidate in his role as Dean of Discipline but also disarm with his well-honed sense of humor.
We also shared our recollections of Dick Ireland, who, Jim recalled, would mutter something about “that damn old man interrupting” every time Father Herr would come on the PA banging that bell to rail about lagging sales in the booster drive, evidence that Mr. Ireland cherished every classroom moment to get his physics points across. It was a trait I took with me into my own classrooms years hence.
We were both impacted so greatly by Miss Virginia Moore, who, like Father Herr and Paul Temple, cast such a long shadow in her history and English classrooms despite her diminutive size. Her preparation and presentation of the overlapping disciplines of English and history were near legendary. Little could I have known when I sat before her that she would be the best teacher I would ever have, from elementary school to high school to college to graduate school.
While pretty much all of the teachers of which we spoke that morning are now gone, so much of them has remained with us to this day. And, that’s the opportunity all of you returning teachers, perhaps grumbling a bit now that summer is over, have, the opportunity, in your own way, to make yourself someone else’s memory.
If you can succeed in doing that, some time many years from now, there just might be a couple 60-somethings sitting in front of eggs and pancakes recalling fondly both what you taught them, and, more importantly, how you taught them.
So, in these first few days of this brand new school year, returning teachers, start making yourself memorable.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.