Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stern But Caring?

I just found out that my 10th grade Biology teacher died last week. I heard rumors that he passed away, but I never had any proof. The man that tormented me, that ridiculed me, that still shows up in my nightmares is dead.

I was going to say Ding Dong The Wicked Bastard Is Dead, but that would just be mean, so I won't go there.

According to his obituary, he was "a stern taskmaster, but was a caring mentor and genuine inspiration to scores and scores of his students." Really? I definitely felt the stern taskmaster bit. Every. Single. Day. But a caring mentor? Nope. Not from this former student. Maybe it was because I wasn't an athlete. Maybe it was because I was a smartass. Or maybe he just hated me.

The second day of class he asked each student to write their name on a small card that he would use for attendance. He told us to put our last name first, followed by our nickname. Without thinking, I put "Chaz" after my last name. Why wouldn't I? EVERYONE called me Chaz. It had been my nickname since seventh grade. People called me Chaz so often most of my best friends didn't know my real name was actually Charles. Well Mr. Dempsey wasn't having it.

He kept me after class and told me that was not an appropriate nickname to be used in class. I tried to argue my point, but he cut me off. "I can tell you are going to be the one student that gives me an ulcer this year. I always have at least one, but I don't usually find out who it is until at least the third or fourth week of school."

I just sat there. Probably with a smart ass look on my face. It wasn't the first time I had been held after class by a teacher. It wasn't the first time I was being reprimanded by a faculty member. It wasn't the first time a teacher called me "trouble." He moved me to the front of the class, next to a girl he said would "hopefully rub off on me." She definitely rubbed on me, but not off on me. But that is a different story for a different time. She was a smart girl, he said, and I would thank him for it by the end of the school year.

About a month into the classes Mr. Dempsey told me to stay after class again. He didn't ask me to stay after. He told me. I honestly thought he was going to tell me I was doing better. I honestly thought he was going to eat his words from early in the year. I honestly thought he was going to move me back to the back of the class with my friends. None of that happened. Not by a long shot. Evidently I did something he didn't appreciate. He told me the next time I acted up, he would take me out in the hall and make sure I never acted up again. "And if anyone asks, I would tell them you spit on me and I had to take action."

That was a threat, right? I definitely took it as a threat. I was petrified. My big ass Biology teacher just threatened to beat me up the next time I stepped out of line. I wasn't sure what to do. I told my friends, who laughed. I told my girl friend, who cried. And I told my dad, who immediately called his buddy the vice principal. The next morning I was asked to come down to see the VP and explain exactly what my teacher said. And I did. I didn't really like being a tattle-tale, but my livelihood was at stake. My life was at stake. My wonderful good looks were at stake. I just wanted the vice principal to know what my teacher had said in case something did happen to me. I didn't want my teacher reprimanded, because I was afraid that would make things worse for me. He agreed to keep it to himself, but he did need to put it in writing and put it in both my file and Mr. Dempsey's file.

Great. And of course, by the time I arrived in Biology class, he knew all about it. "It seems you have some friends in high places" he said as I walked in. I honestly don't remember much about Biology class other than that smart cute girl I sat next to, dissecting a frog, and Mr. Dempsey. His attempts at making me a better student didn't work. I didn't learn anything from him. I loathed him. He was a son-of-a-bitch. He was a horrible teacher. He would write notes on the board and we would write them in our notebooks. He would lecture and we would listen. He never moved from behind the counter at the front of the room. He would hobble around in my nightmares barking orders at me and threatening me over and over and over. And he never called me Chaz.

But now he's dead. And I'm a teacher. And every day I strive to be the exact opposite with my students as he was to me. You want to be a smartass? Feel free. I was ten times worse than you will ever be. So I won't yell at you after class. You want to be a slacker? I get it. I was a slacker before you were even born. So I know how you feel. You want to be called some bizarre nickname? That's cool. How do you spell it? I will not threaten you for being yourself. Or trying to be yourself. Or trying to figure out yourself.

Rest In Piece Mr. Dempsey. I hope to see you on the other side.
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