February 9, 2023

Who was your best teacher nondual teachers a name come flying to your lips? How about your worse teacher? Can you name him or her? I can.

In sixth grade, during the 50s, I had Mr. Henry Humdrum. (Name changed to protect the guilty.) Since he was my first male teacher, I eagerly looked forward to school. By being the same gender we would automatically be kindred spirits. Wrong! Sitting in his class that first day, I felt depressed. Mr. Humdrum was bald, portly, and strict. Why couldn’t I catch a break? And how was I to know that because of him I would become a skillful teacher? I know it sounds crazy, yet it’s absolutely true.

Mr. Humdrum’s wardrobe was dull, and he never told amusing stories. There were no snacks, visual aids, slides, hands-on-science, learning centers, guest speakers or Snow Days.

Yes, I was struggling and bored, but he didn’t seem to notice. There was nothing super about sixth grade. I daydreamed about the Man of Steel-Superman rescuing me.

One day Mr. Humdrum gave me the honor of washing out a large vase. This special privilege meant a break from routine tasks. After I rinsed out the partially wet vase, it slipped out of my hands and exploded in the hallway, shattering into a thousand pieces. As I trudged back to the classroom, I expected to see everyone hiding under his or her desk.

Mr. Humdrum met me at the door, but he didn’t blast me. There were no angry words. He had a plan up his sleeve. To pay for the shattered vase, Mr. Humdrum imposed fines on us if we didn’t live up to his sixth grade code. Each day we had to have a handkerchief, wear shined shoes and be prepared with our supplies. The fines were less than a nickel, yet your tab could accumulate. I lived in mortal fear that my allowance might be garnished.

I felt that anybody could replace Mr. Humdrum. Even as a college student, my dislike for his teaching performance remained. While I was in college, my younger brother, Tony, told me that Mr. Humdrum wanted to see me. I wondered if I still owed money for the vase. Maybe he wondered why I wanted to be a teacher. I could never ever tell him the reason.

I thought that I could be a “better teacher” than he was. For the wrong reasons, he was my inspiration, and I aimed at being a dynamic teacher. While traveling home by train from college for Christmas vacation a few days before the public schools let out, I accidentally met him on the same train. He was on the way to school, and I was almost home from my nine hour trip.

The extra years hadn’t been kind. He was rounder and shorter. Riding trains all night, I wasn’t in the mood for idle conversation or talk of vases. He got right to the heart of matters. He said, “Joe, I hope that you find teaching as fulfilling as I have over the years. Teaching is like throwing a rock into a pond, you never know where your ripples of influence stop.”

Suddenly, his voice sounded apologetic. “With your class I had to be rather strict. You can always loosen up later.” He said smiling, “I remember you well.” I said to myself: Here comes the part about the vase. He continued, “The day the vase broke I almost lost my temper, but accidents happen. Nobody is perfect.”

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