Friday, 18 October 2013

Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time

Bad Teacher

I’m not the type of person to bear a grudge, but there are a few people for whom a dark corner in me does not wish all the best. Not that I would ever wish to inflict them any harm, but these are people for whom I do not have much love. If you were to wake me up in the middle of the night I would probably name three such people.
The first two are my army boot camp unit commander and her deputy. These two went above and beyond the call of duty to train us into becoming soldiers; they actually enjoyed being nasty and cruel, as widely evident by the smiles on their faces at the time. Indeed, the army is a fine venue for anthropological studies into what it is, exactly, that takes place when you give people unquestioned power over others. Especially young, inexperienced, people.
I guess the army occupying two out of three in my grudge list comes at no surprise to those who know me. I have been known to state aloud how poorly I think of such organisations and of the time I had spent in one of them. What would probably surprise you, though, is the identity of the third person in my list: my high school maths teacher.

I’ll go back a bit to explain where the idea for this post came from.
A couple of days ago I exchanged a few tweets with author Emily Gale. She was asking whether other experience nightmares where they fail things they successfully managed years ago in real life. I responded that yes, I keep on failing school tests.
I was not lying. By far the most common nightmare I have features me failing my high school final exams – in particular the maths one – which thus leaves me unable to go to uni. Upon awakening I have to remind myself I’ve actually done uni, and done uni well, but the point remains: there was some trauma that I have acquired during my high school days, and that trauma has uniquely survived to this very day.
Yes, I did use to have army related nightmares, too. Living in Australia cured me of those many years ago, but the high school ones still remain. And if I were to point at one reason why, that reason would be my maths teacher. How shall I put it? I lay the blame for most of my personal gripes with institutional education on him. He was not a bad person by any account, but as a teacher he seems to have left nothing but scorched earth behind.
His effect is very much measurable in the way I have been avoiding official studies since, the way I have been tackling the studies I was forced to endure (uni and all), and in the joy I get whenever I encounter a person who can truly educate. I guess this goes to explain my passionate admiration for the likes of Richard Dawkins, people from whom it is so easy to learn. People that turn learning into a joy.

I hope that in the years since our education systems got better enough to filter corrosive teachers out. I hope, but I know that is a false hope. I have been burnt, but I still carry the hope my son will manage to survive his schooling years unburdened by trauma.

Image by William Mewes, Creative Commons license


Uri said...

He did show us the shortcut of solving a quadratic equation where b is even.

While I don’t share your grudge, it does make me think of something else – I’ve heard again and again about the ‘one teacher’ that had changed people’s lives. I’ve had plenty of teachers, some good and some bad, but none of them had that effect on me.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I think the point your making about these stories explains, perhaps, my ongoing grudge. It's not as if this particular teacher was the sum of all that is bad; it's just that he was a bad teacher and he was there throughout my high school studies, covering perhaps the most important of subjects. Thus he grew to become the emblem of all that is bad with formal education, especially as things weren't much better at uni.
I didn't encounter that wonderful mentor of a teacher either. In retrospect, although I did meet good teachers along the way (and posted about some of them in the past), I don't think teachers made that much of a difference on me: it was the books I studied from that got me through the final high school exams in top shape (I got a book for each exam, and studied each carefully). And it was my friends that got me along the rest of the time. Ringo was right, I did get by with lots of help from my friends.
I think nowadays expecting that wonderful teacher to show up is more than a bit naive. With the way curriculums are done and the manner in which teaching had turned from education into carpet fact bombing, I think the teachers - even the better ones - are stuck between a rock and a hard place.