It was while turned around in my desk, chatting with the guy behind me, that the soft, tri-striped eraser with the rock-hard back side arced through the classroom air, split two rows of desks, zoomed up the aisle and landed with a thud right behind my ear.
That eraser left the hand of one of the best teachers I have ever had, Mr. Gladman, and I can still feel that Grade 6 welt today.
It’s a feeling associated with the very best of my school days.
Grade 6 was a year of firsts —first crushes, first overnight field trips, first rollerskating trips and first teacher who made a serious impression on students.
Mr. Gladman wasn’t much older than us (at least he didn’t seem that much older) and was, therefore, seen as an almost contemporary in the teaching fraternity that had, until Grade 6, us looking at teachers as though they were all standing on the very cliff of retirement.
Not Mr. Gladman, or “Bags,” as we called him.
He was cool. He would teach in very different ways. He knew how to help you find your passion among the subjects.
He would spend all lunch hour in the classroom, debating sports with the students. He would stay long after the final bell, talking about life or playing floor hockey with us until the janitors kicked us out of the gym.
And, yes, he would deftly utilize chalkboard erasers, or dense textbooks, or taped-up wads of paper as aerial weapons when the boys among us insisted on not listening during a lesson.
Back then, we accepted the brief pain from a Gladman missile as the price to pay for goofing off; today, such acts would likely result in court hearings — reason No. 546 why things were so much better then than now . . .
This week marks the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
For kids, summer is done and it’s time to get those brains working again.
For parents, it can be time to remember the Mr. Gladmans of our youth, those special teachers whose remarkable gift in the classroom remains fresh in our minds decades after the fact.
Is there another profession in which the talent and passion of those employed can have such a significant and lasting impact shaping lives?
So, in honour of this, the real start to the year, a salute to the teachers who stay with me yet:
• To Ms. Wood, my Grade 1 teacher, my first-ever teacher, who introduced a boy of six to his first rapid heartbeat. Ms. Wood, you see, had only recently been crowned Miss Abbotsford.
• To Mrs. Martens, my Grade 4 teacher who perfected the schoolmarm look and who shared my love for zany BCTV weatherman Norm Grohman, often interrupting a math lesson to share laughs about the previous night’s News Hour antics of Crazy Norm.
• To Mr. Anderson, my Grade 7 teacher who may have been almost as hockey-crazy as us boys and who had a heart of gold. It was he who palmed the slip of paper bearing the name of the girl with whom I was madly in love, holding the piece of paper to the end as students pulled names for Christmas gifts — and dropping it into the empty hat when I was to pick the final name.
• To Mr. Stewart, the legendary librarian/gym teacher/basketball coach of the Fraser Valley who would constantly bring out newspapers for my Grade 8 mind to read and read and read.
• To Mr. Toews, a high school teacher who could barely smile and rarely laugh, but whose strict teaching style was so good that, today, 27 years later, I still know all the details of Louis Riel and the Red River Rebellion courtesy of an inventive system of organizing the issues involved (language, religion, racism, etc.) into a neat little poem.
• To Mr. Ratzlaff, whose unbridled passion for history was as addictive as crack, whose teaching style was so energetic one was exhausted when the bell rang. On. Jan. 28, 1986, on the morning the space shuttle Challenger exploded, history was my first class and Mr. Ratzlaff suspended the usual lesson and sat at the edge of his desk, just talking with his students about the tragedy.
I think he did that all day.
To these teachers and all others whose marks on this world — via lesson plans and airborne projectiles — live on in the minds and bodies of kids of all ages, welcome to a new school year.