Monday, January 26, 2009

Favorite Teacher

I just learned few days ago that one of my favorite high school teachers passed away in October.  Tony Bryant taught me English at Page High School in the late 1970s.  I think was a sophomore.  He would always mark up my papers until they bled.  I don’t remember if I made an A or a B in his class, but I remember butting heads with him.  It seemed like he was most unreasonable as he pushed me to write better and better.  But he really cared about the students, and he would let us tease with him.  He was fun in his own opinionated, hard-headed way.

Once I challenged him on the spelling of a word.  I wrote the word “co√∂perate,” with the two dots over the second “o.”  He marked the word as misspelled.  It should be “co-operate,” he declared.  I pushed back, saying that the word could be spelled my way.  He instructed me to go look it up.  I found a dictionary in the room and located the word—spelled my way.

Of course, I took the book to him, smugly.  “Well, the dictionary is wrong,” he concluded, saying that the spelling had changed in contemporary English.  Now  I had the upper hand.  “How do you expect me to spell words correctly, then, if even the dictionary in our room is incorrect?”

 He did not count off for the spelling of the word, and he made a special point of getting a new dictionary in the room.  He even announced that there was now a means for checking spelling accurately.

 I often thought about going back to Page to show him one of my articles in the Northwest Observer.  I wanted to tell him that all his harassing and haranguing had really made me a better writer.  I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated it.  I wanted to laugh with him about the whining of his students today.

 I never got the chance.  He was only 60 when he died.

 Now I have my own class of 9th graders, home school students who have a day-long tutoring session every Tuesday.  When I talk to them about their writing, I hear Tony Bryant’s voice coming through me.  I only hope that these students are as blessed by my pushing them as I was by Mr. Bryant’s pushing me.