Monday, February 24, 2014

It was just like Dead Poet's Society, but with a lawnmower...

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The other day at work I had one of those worlds colliding moments.  I was having a meeting with a project manager and I saw the name of my old high school English teacher on one of his project plans.

I think we all had that one teacher in high school who was just plain cool.  You know the one, who treated us like the adults we wanted to be instead of the kids we really still were.  For me it was this guy.  I still remember what he said to us on our first day of class, basically that he'd treat us like adults as long as we behaved like them, and that anyone who wasn't interested in being their could leave, he didn't care.

No one left, and everyone turned up to all of the classes.  Of course, that might have had a little bit to do with the fact that at least three quarters of the girls in the class had a crush on the guy, but still.

It turns out that he's now a bit of a rock star in the education field.  Generations of kids who were taught by him, all having gone on to various fields, all willing to step up now and help him with his programs and projects.  Apparently that's what a lifetime in education gets you, an army of well placed minions ready to do your bidding.

And good for him, he totally earned it!  He was definitely one of the best teachers I had in high school, and I'm sure a lot of kids would say he was the one teacher who made a difference in their lives.

But if I'm honest, he wasn't the most influential teacher I had.  That honour goes to someone who wasn't even a teacher.  His name was Big John, at least that's what we kids called him, and he was the gardener at my primary school.  

He had a shed in the main courtyard where he kept all his tools and his workbench, and when he wasn't mowing the grass or trimming bushes, he used to make us kids little presents out of scraps of wooden board and old greeting cards.  I still have some of the little wall hangings he made me, and I'll always treasure them.

I think the reason we all loved him as much as we did is that, in a place full of teachers and administration and other adults who all seemed to just be there to scare us or judge us (at least that's how it seemed to us), he was just so completely accepting of every kid in that place.  We all knew, instinctually, that he was a good person and we were safe while he was around.  He'd let us sit with him while we ate our lunch, or stand around in his work shed (which was really just a carport type affair with a door that they closed up in the evenings) and watch him make things.  We all knew that wherever he was was a safe space.

He understood us, and we all felt it.

I read on a message board a little while ago that he'd passed away, and I can't say I was surprised.  He wasn't young when I was in school, and that was more than 30 years ago.  But the sheer number of comments on that post from people who remembered him overwhelmed me, all of them talking about how much they'd loved him.  

There were a lot of teachers in that school, but I think Big John was perhaps the most influential adult in the place.  We were all lucky to have known him.

20 comments:

  1. I really loved this post. Thank you for sharing. I also loved the line about minions. :-)

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  2. I had someone like that growing up. He drove the school bus in the morning and after school and during the day he was Mr. Fixit. His name was Shorty and while I can't remember all of my teachers, I sure do remember him.

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  3. I have no real comment other than to say, very nice post.

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  4. I'm really trying to resist a "Groundskeeper Willy" reference because this was really sweet. A wonderful tribute.

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  5. What a lovely memory to hold....if he had family, I hope you all managed to shared what he meant to you with them.

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  6. I just read last week that the janitor from my grade school years passed away. Sad to see such a wonderful man pass.

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  7. I remember my music/drama teacher. She was quirky, and looked a little like the actress that was in Private Benjamin ( not Goldie but the captain) I also remember a sociology teacher, who stood out because she looked young and was the only one who resembled most of the students in the school. An encouraging teacher. All a long time ago. Yep..teachers tend to be very influential.

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  8. I'm so glad you knew Big John.

    Love,
    Janie

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  9. Funny what and who we remember and what makes a difference to a child.

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  10. I've spent a lot of time trying to look up adults I knew when I was little. I mean, the ones who were REALLY old then must be dead, right? Maybe they just seemed really old because I was a kid, and adding a quarter century to their age doesn't make them vampires or anything.

    I knew some cool old people, though. I hope kids - maybe even one kid - might remember me the same way years from now.

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  11. At the time I may have had a favourite but now it's "meh", they certainly didn't do anything for me, especially at the high school I went to.

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  12. What a lovely tribute to a person that probably influenced a lot of young people without the accolades that the teachers might of received. I think many of the people that influenced me as a kid were just people that were kind to me.

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  13. Big John sounds like a wonderful human being to me. Great tribute to him. :)

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  14. Lifetime of well placed minions?!? I need to be a teacher!!!!

    Hugs!

    Valerie

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  15. Yes wonderful tribute to the anti-hero gardener. A little concerned about the cool guy; "the one who treated us like the adults we wanted to be instead of the kids we really still were." That can be punishable by law.

    Completely unrelated: a too large percentage of adults just don't know that it's not okay to buy alcohol for minors that are hanging out in liquor store parking lots -- or at all

    !!

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  16. Wherever he was was a safe space... I like that. I'm so belatedly jealous.

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  17. Really very interesting post.I do appreciate you for your work.

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  18. New EXACTLY who you are talking about. Quick google of his name and 'education' and up popped a video from your work. Thanks

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