Best of Bweinh! — My Best Teacher

November 29, 2007, 2:30 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Featured, Josh J  | No Comments

Originally published May 18.

It seems a bit strange to think of him as my best teacher. There were certainly times when his style left me cringing. But in a way, coming through our clashes in style with my affection for his teaching still intact, is what confirms for me that he was my best.

He taught me freshman high school geometry, and he was certainly brilliant, and a bit eccentric. We walked in the first day to be greeted by a video camera. We each took our place, one at a time, front and center, said our first and last names, and he called out a row and seat from his memorized seating chart.

When my turn came, I dutifully called out, “Joshua Jones.”

“Joshua Douglas Jones?”

“Yeah.” I was puzzled. How many Josh Joneses were in this class anyway?

It turned out he just really liked my middle name, and rarely referred to me by any moniker that didn’t include some version of it. Joshua Douglas, Mr. Douglas, even J.D. Jones. It’s the kind of thing that in high school will simultaneously embarrass you and endear someone to you.

More importantly, he was a man with a passion for teaching that came through in everything he did. He was the teacher who used any object lesson or memory device, no matter how goofy. He would stretch you by making you figure things out rather than just telling you all the answers. He gave plenty of extra credit, for everything from solving the toughest problem first to memorizing pi to 100 places — even for bringing in comic strips referring to geometric properties. One time he brought in a box of donuts and gave them out, one by one, to the students who correctly solved that day’s class problems quickest. As someone who possesses both a quickness in problem solving and a strong love of donuts, this was my ideal form of education.

There was only one real problem — the man believed very strongly in homework, at least an hour’s worth per night. I, on the other hand, would eventually be labeled by him as “philosophically opposed” to it. That may have given my ninth grade ideology a bit too much credit, but the fact remained: I didn’t do most of the assignments. This would have posed a problem, except I was absolutely killing all his tests and quizzes, including those of the pop variety that occurred at least a couple times per week. I wasn’t unprepared for class, or failing to learn — I just prepared and learned in my own quicker, more efficient manner.

And so, eventually, as an educator, this posed a problem for him.

For a while he tried to break me, assigning quiz values to random homework assignments. I figured out a way to anticipate the most likely culprits, ensuring those were done. Then he tried to get me to come in after school before my bus arrived to do the assignments before going home. I found reasons to be unavailable. The only thing I truly feared was public humiliation in front of my classmates, but he was too good a man to apply anything more than the gentlest of pressures in the class setting, despite my unlucky seat directly beneath his lecturing perch.

As the year progressed and I continued to outperform most of my fellow students in class while ignoring most of his assignments out of class, he began to soften. Finally, one day another teacher came in and he asked her in front of the class, “Is there a point to forcing a student to do homework assignments if they can learn the material without it? What is the purpose of homework?”

I don’t remember her answer. I don’t think he even really wanted one. I knew he was talking to me.

I got through the year, grades intact. The next year his homework policy was changed to allow students to turn in their assignments with items omitted if the students deemed them redundant or unnecessary.

If I’ve had one problem with institutional education, it’s been that too many people, students and teachers alike, forget that the point of the whole exercise is learning. He didn’t. He let me learn to my full ability.

I never really thanked him.


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