My seventh and eight grade algebra teacher, Mr. Ives McClellan, was a character. Specifically, he was a cross between Hennie Youngman and Groucho Marx — at least his sense of humor was. He could rattle off one-liners so quick that in order to catch the joke we had to pay attention.
Not that I wouldn’t have followed along anyway. Mr. McClellan had a unique style of teaching — he made learning fun. Students would always bring him buttons and pins that he’d wear on his white lab coat. He’d take the coat out his closet when class began and hang it up at the final bell. It was reminiscent of Mr. Rogers changing his shoes in each episode.
But Mr. McClellan needed that coat because by the end of the day it was covered in chalk. I never saw a teacher get so messy before or since. He was just a magnet for chalk.
More important than his jokes or his appearance was that he did something for me that no other teacher would ever do again — he achieved the impossible by getting me to learn algebra.
I became so proficient in the basics of the subject that I could tutor my classmates when they got stuck. I can’t remember anyone asking me for help in any other subject.
I appeared to know the stuff so well that I was placed in AP algebra as a freshman in high school. That was when I realized that any skill I had was only because of Mr. McClellan. I barely escaped my first year of high school math with a C. After that it was all down hill. One common trait within every journalist that I ever met is that we chose writing because we can’t solve math problems. I still remember enough to survive though.
Even though I had professors in college that had more of an impact on my career, I remember Mr. McClellan because he brought out the best in me in a subject for which I obviously have very little innate ability.
That’s not to say I had bad teachers after him, it’s just none of the rest could reach me the way he did.
Although Teacher Appreciation Week was last week, it’s never too late to honor the dedicated, caring teachers. Maybe no other teacher got through to me, but maybe they did to other students.
For making the impossible possible above all other reasons, I say thank you to all teachers. I encourage everyone else to say the same the next time you meet your or your child’s teacher.