Thursday, April 12, 2012

Teachers II

How does a student engage with a teacher, instructor, mentor or professor? The student must do some of the work -- at least be receptive and a good listener, read and take notes, think a little, be open-minded, ask questions. It works both ways.

One teacher in high school that certainly intrigued me was Ruth Cunningham, aka Dr. Bishop. She taught history and sure, I remember specific historical details from her classes, but I also remember certain of her flourishes and pecadillos. She always seemed to be striving to turn things into what education jargon has in more recent years labelled "teachable moments." I remember when one kid in class leaned his chair back against a back wall and fell over, to the nervous, derisive laughter of other students. Dr. Bishop immediately inquired if he was all right, then quipped, "There's always a fine line between tragedy and comedy," which made everyone show a little more empathy -- it could have been any of us. She then went on to tell us about ancient Greek theatre and its universal relevance. 

When discussing the death of a historical figure, Dr. Bishop personalized it, observing the disconnect between how a person feels inside and how the world responds on the outside. She was at a relative's funeral in South Carolina grieving, somber, when some people raced by the cemetery in a rambler, laughing, goofing off, blasting music from an eight-track, and she experienced this disconnect firsthand.

Her pecadillos?  She would read newspapers wearing gloves. When asked why, she'd explain how newspapers were very inky, and she didn't want to smear ink on her delicate hands. She'd say this in a "high" South Carolina accent, warbling certain words like "house" much like an Anglo from Ontario might, drawing them out.

Ruth Cunningham/Dr. Bishop inspired me to take multiple elective history courses, including more under her auspices. Even now when I think about it, her classes and manner inspire another post to be written, which is a sort of long-delayed way of saying 'thanks.'

Today's Rune: Signals.  

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