Half my life is in books' written pages,
Live and learn from fools and from sages;
You know it's true,
All the things come back to you.
— "Dream On," Aerosmith
(Note: summer is over, so I'm going to try and return to my original one-post-per-week schedule.)
In 8th grade, I had the coolest history teacher; I'll call him Mr. B.
Here's the thing about Mr. B: he stands out in my memory as a great teacher, but many of the details I remember about him make him sound kind of terrifying, or just like a not-ideal teacher. Mr. B was a card-carrying NRA member, and he let us know about it. He often spoke about the possibility of revolution in the U.S. because of too much government control or corruption (he never claimed to be a Libertarian, but he strikes me as one in hindsight; maybe he just didn't think we'd know what a Libertarian was and didn't want to explain it). Not that he advocated revolution: he was just letting us know it might come one day, and we should be prepared. He was going to prepare by owning guns.
Mr. B was a loudmouth, and he often poked fun at his students, though never in a way that struck me as intentionally mean-spirited. If you gave him a silly or ignorant answer to a question, he'd ask what you'd been smoking (and, on his better days, request that you give him some). He was generally just not interested in any way in being politically correct: the man had us watch "The Patriot" in class, for Pete's sake.
But I will assert that Mr. B was the best teacher in the whole school, no contest. The man should be honored as a hero and, I think, remembered as a legend. Why, you ask?
Mr. B was the most energetic, enthusiastic, engaging teacher I've ever been taught by, known, or heard of. He was utterly unhinged, unafraid to be weird, goofy, or even abrasive if that's what it took to get kids' attention and focus it on learning. He was creative and imaginative, and he cared deeply about his students. I've never had another teacher give me a Myers-Briggs personality test, and even if I had, I doubt anyone else would have thought to group students together by complementing personality types or would have been able to address them in class by type ("James! You're an INFJ, what's your opinion on X? Our ENFP over here thinks otherwise, eh?" and so forth).
My favorite part of Mr. B's classes was the opening monologue, where Mr. B would riff on current events and try to teach us about how the world worked. It could have been the most self-indulgent nonsense ever, but it was usually awesome; in particular, I remember hearing about and discussing the implications of the U.S. spy plane collision in (debatably) Chinese territory, and I realize now that there was no one else in my life who bothered to talk about big, knotty political and international issues like that when I was 13. Heck, not many adults took me any kind of seriously at all at that age, so Mr. B was definitely special.
Mr. B was the greatest. It's thanks to teachers like him that I grew up into a person with any kind of ability to think independently or analytically (and perhaps that I survived such teachers as Coach V later on down the line). I hope my kids get a few teachers like that guy someday.