Once upon a yesteryear I wanted to be an English teacher.
The trouble with aspiring to certain professions at a young age is that your perceptions are usually too far removed from reality for your choice to be an informed one.
Having said that, when I was in 6th Year [American equivalent = high school senior] my dean was so impressed with the way I organized a pool tournament for my peers in the rec room that he actually took me aside and told me that if I ever wanted somewhere to train as a teacher, I was more than welcome at my alma mater.
This meant nothing to me at the time, but seven years later when I returned from a couple of years’ travelling in the USA with MyX and she was pregnant with our first child, I was relying on this promise for my career prospects, and I set up a meeting with the principal of the day to discuss them.
By the time I walked out of the meeting, I was fully convinced that teaching was the last thing I wanted to do. One reason for this could be that the priest then holding the reins of the school was the very man in whose Religion class I had been, shall we say, a tad over-quizzical in the past [see this essay].
I guess my seemingly atheist leanings would have been a bit too disruptive for his highly respected establishment whose alumni included both Ireland’s answer to George Washington aka Eamonn de Valera and Ireland’s answer to Mother Theresa aka Bob Geldof.
And so my life went in a different direction, albeit a slightly wayward one. I have been meaning for sometime to do an essay in my “Lifeslice” series about some of the teachers I did have as a youngster, so here goes.
Though I will disguise the surnames of the various professors for obvious reasons, I will use their real nicknames so that when googlers find their way here by virtue this sentence which contains the phrase “Blackrock College”, they will hopefully be reminded of similar experiences with the same people. I will write about them as they come to mind, they are in no particular order.
FR “FERGIE” FARLEY [subject = French]
Fergie’s trademark move was ripping off his glasses and saying aggressively to the class when they were being disorderly “Do you want a confrontation?” He always used to pick on me because I hated doing the buttons both at my collar and on my sleeves. Though he never sent me to the principal for it, there were dozens of occasions when the class would be held up as I was ordered to roll down my sleeves and strangle myself with the collar button. On the last day of the school year, one of my classmates had the bright idea for me to have my buttons done properly while the rest of the class went for my usual sloppy look. Though I know he must have noticed, he chose not to say anything the entire period.
FR PADDY “FART” McARDLE [Religion]
Legend has it he got this name when in the midst of reading out text from a religious instruction booklet to a class he suddenly blurted out “Who farted?” in his country [locally known as “culchie”] accent in reaction to a particular odour that had infiltrated the classroom.
MR “ARCHIE” McANDREW [French – WP]
The WP refers to Willow Park, the junior feeder school. Archie was a very good French teacher and gave me a good grounding in the language. Unfortunately he will be most remembered not only for the fact that he tended to wear clogs, but also that he had a propensity to flinging them off his foot down an aisle between desks at the wall towards the back of the class to scare the be-jaysis out of boys not paying attention.
MR EDDIE TAYLOR [English – WP]
Though small enough in stature for you to think he could have been a jockey in younger days, his deep booming English accent would dominate any room and strike terror into any youngster. He had a novel way of asserting his authority on a class – I will never forget my first experience with him as my teacher – less than a minute after closing the door behind him he gave a boy sitting in the front row an almighty slap across the face for not acknowledging his entrance quickly enough by rising from his desk.
MR. “BOGMAN” BYRNE [Science]
Unlike Mr Taylor, discipline wasn’t exactly one of his strong points. He seemed to think the best punishment for boys talking amongst themselves in his class was to separate them by making one of the culprits move his notebook from the central benches in the middle of the classroom to the shelves at the side. One day he punished the boy sitting beside me in this way, yet about ten minutes later, having caught the same boy talking to another guilty party at the shelved area, he ordered him back to the middle – to the other side of where I was sitting. The term “bogman” is akin to the phrase “culchie” I mentioned earlier as it is a less-than-flattering description of someone who hails from outside of Dublin in a more rural setting.
MR “SAMSON” McMANUS [Irish]
Although my disillusionment with learning the Irish language began under his watch, to blame him would be unfair. The syllabus was just too boring. Samson was named as such because he was huge, not because of his hair or anything. His method of teaching second level Irish was to give us prepared answers to questions he knew would be on the exam papers and making us learn them off by heart – he used to call each passage a “smaointe” [roughly pronounced smweencha] and there was nothing I hated more as a 14-year old. In the end I devised an elaborate system of “cog-notes” or “cheat-sheets” and had them written in tiny writing on various scraps of paper which I smuggled into the final exam in various parts of my clothing. Had I used the same intelligence that devised the intricate scam to apply myself to actual study, I probably would have gotten a better grade, but it wouldn’t have been as fun.
MR. ALAN McGOVERN [Math]
Everyone who has had anything to do with the school [which is known locally as “The Rock”] will know who I mean from this description, as his real name is synonymous with the school even now. He has what can be only described as a “no-nonsense” attitude. He once did something similar to Eddie Taylor in that he grabbed a boy out of his desk and threw him out the door before a class even started, though this time not because the boy was doing anything wrong, he was just annoyed by the sight of him! McGovern’s first task in each class would be to inspect our homework. He would always start at the first desk in the top left hand corner and work his way down each row, putting an enormous check mark across your page after a brief inspection. I thought I was extremely clever sitting down the very end of the last row he inspected in that I had time to scrawl out my effort in the time it took him to traverse the room. I succeeded for most of the time until one day when he got to my desk, picked up my copybook, ripped it in two and threw it in the trash.
MR. “BENJY” CARTER [English]
Although English was always my favourite subject, what made me want to be an English teacher was my assertion that I could definitely do it a whole lot better than this guy. His idea of “covering” Shakespeare for example was to pick three or four students, assign them to different roles from a particular play, and have them blandly read out the text from their book. This was never easy to do, especially when you consider that when it was your turn to read something out, you invariably had someone either prodding you from behind or firing a piece of chewed up paper across the room at your cheek with a pea-shooter/Bic-pen-with-the-ink-bit-removed.
It was in Benjy’s class that my talents as a mimic began to emerge, as I had his voice down to a T. I went on to distract fellow students with an apparently impressive routine where I did my own dialogue from Star Trek which included the voices of Kirk, Spock, Scotty and Chekhov. As a result of my antics Benjy’s catchphrase became “Jeff Pagano – get outta that desk” as he would invariably move me up to the head of the class. One day he added; “You’re not learning anything down there”, to which I boldly replied, “That’s because you’re not teaching anything up there!”, a retort that unbelievably went unpunished. Although my arrogance may have been well founded, I never appreciated at the time that despite my defiance he would always give me good grades, and many was the time he chose to read my assignments out to the class.
Since it is partially thanks to him that I had the confidence to begin writing this blog, I will make Benjy’s tale the last of this selection.
Looking back I suppose I can only admire the work of the teaching profession as a whole. While most get criticism when things go wrong, few get credit for a job well done, as this is a prize no doubt willingly claimed by the parents.
I wonder what vocations would spring to most people’s minds when they think of the word “hero”? No doubt doctors, soldiers, fire-fighters and policemen would all get the nod before teachers. As no doubt many people would have tales of ridicule from their past schooldays similar to mine, this will undoubtedly be a perception that will continue for many years to come. I don’t think I can name one TV show that my kids watch that doesn’t have a dorky teacher as a main character.
Of course, Oscar Wilde’s famous quote doesn’t do the profession a whole lot of good either!
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