Here again, I’m afraid I find myself with too many options — I’ve had a fair few good teachers over the years. Should I talk about the Biology teacher who knew everything? The English teacher that made me realize I love poetry? The beautiful young Science teacher with curly hair I may or may yes have had a crush on?
I’ve chosen my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Mike Slater. Not because he merits it more than any of the others, but because he was the first to show me that a teacher could be more than the person I had to obey for six hours a day. (For any readers that didn’t grow up in the U.S. school system, the average 4th-grader is 10 years old.)
Mr. Slater had, at some point in his life, worked as a correctional officer in prisons. This doubtlessly gave him the tools he would later need to control a class of 4th-graders. He also spoke Russian – why was never figured out.
Mr. Slater was someone who I, as an adult, would like to hang out with. He had a great sense of humor. We once had a new student come to class. After a bit of normal teaching, Mr. Slater declared “Ok, time for today’s Russian lesson!”. He then started to speak rapid-fire Russian, ending with a question. As one unit, the entire class responded “Da!”. He continued, and came to another question. Again, the entire class responded simultaneously: “Nyet!”. The look of fear and dread on the face of that new kid…
Of course, none of us ever spoke a single word of Russian (well, aside from “da” and “nyet”). Mr. Slater had prior knowledge that there would be a new student, and so he prepped us on what he was going to do, and what we were to respond. And we practiced it. And it paid off.
My clearest memory of Mike Slater is as a man with a sense of humor. Occasionally he would shout “Get to work, you scum!”. We found it hilarious. He was the first to introduce me to a strange musician called Weird Al. He introduced us to the Garbage Pail Kids. He introduced us to humor and parody.
Partway through the year, Mr. Slater spoke to my parents about allowing me to take part in an afterschool program he ran, called G.A.T.E. (Gifted And Talented Somethingorother). They consented, and soon I was joining him after school with a few other students, learning assorted things like how to navigate using a compass, and designing board games (and learning project management at the same time…). Some of the skills he taught us stuck with me. Most didn’t. But we learned, and we had loads of fun doing it.
Tune in tomorrow, same bat-time (ok, maybe a BIT earlier), same bat-channel, for “Best friend from childhood/high school/college”.
Also, check out our other participants here –
Niki: Sometimes I Write