Author: Judd, Brooks

Teachers Who Made a Difference

Mr. Thornton, my social studies and home room teacher at Hayward High was a beacon of fairness and a fountain of knowledge. He was tall, wore his red hair in a crew cut was a true liberal and I loved him. His wardrobe consisted of two suits, a greenish-brown suit and a brownish green suit. He had a collection of ties, a green one and a brown one. Wearing fancy duds or even being a smidgen narcissistic wasn’t Mr. Thornton’s style. But, there was one occasion our class was being filmed for some sort of “study” and I was a bit shocked then amused when I witnessed Mr. Thornton glance around the room quickly to make sure no one was watching (but I was) and actually began fiddling with his tie to make sure it was straight and quickly rub a nervous hand through his short red hair. For my two suit-two tie wearer master teacher this was to him I’m sure the height of narcissism. This little incident made me love the man more.

Mr. Thornton had a thorough knowledge of his material and was gifted with patience and a sense of humor. Our classroom had its share of conservatives and liberals and it seemed like there was always a heated discussion going on. Mr. Thornton would always moderate these discussions without being pushy and dominating and was able to encourage his students to come up with facts to support their position. I wasn’t the only one who admired him.

I was very close to being the “class clown” (read dunderhead-loud mouth) and caused Mr.Thornton hours of grief. I’m sure I tested Mr. Thornton’s patience on many occasions but God love, him he didn’t lose his temper and treated me with respect. In the middle of a political discussion with a future Barry Goldwater I would pipe up, begin to orate, get carried away, boisterous and playing to the rest of the classroom and Mr. Thornton would admonish me, “Mr. Judd, you’re out of order.” I would keep on orating and Mr. Thornton, still smiling, would respond again “Mr. Judd, you are still out of order. Where are your facts? Mr. Judd, please share your facts with the rest of us so we can respond. Mr. Judd? Mr. Judd?” I had always felt passion was a good substitute for facts. No so with Mr. Thornton.

I wish at the time I would have been more aware of Mr. Thornton’s sterling character and excellent teaching qualities. I think I knew then he was special but it wasn’t until much later I realized just how special he was.

I took English Literature when I was a junior at Hayward High and had the great fortune of being tossed into a room that was taught by a wonderful lady-educator, Mrs. Dorothy Buckley. She was married to a local noted judge, rubbed elbows with the local elite, dressed to the “nines” every day, wore expensive jewelry, her radiant silver hair was coiffed perfectly, while her make up flattered her serious yet caring expressive face and highlighted her large intense blue smiling eyes. She emoted when she talked using her hands (diamond jewelry dangling deliciously from her delicate wrists) in sweeping gestures to ask a question I had never really heard before, “Now class, (long pause) what was Shakespeare REALLY saying here?” Picture Ms. Jean Brodie and you have Mrs. Buckley.

Mrs. Buckley also taught the MA class (more able- yes it was called that back then), mostly the kids from the wealthy Woodland Estates up in the Hayward Hills behind Hayward High which meant the grading bar was set a bit higher. When I finally earned my first C+ on a paper I immediately framed it and placed it on my wall. I envisioned my wall being papered with C+’s and B’s by the end of the year. I must confess my wall’s paint was lonely with only a couple of papers to keep it company by the end of the year. I didn’t mind because of what of what I learned from Mrs. Buckley, a lifelong passion for literature.

Even thought I couldn’t crack the B grade but a couple of times in her class, Mrs. Buckley ignited a flame in me that still warms my soul and tickles my intellect and curiosity every time I read a book, essay, article, poem, or listen to a song. Mrs. Buckley introduced me to T. S. Eliot, his love for cats, and it was in her room where my eyes were opened wide with awe when we read and discussed the magnificent and wonderful, *“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, a poem to this day I still find myself reciting as easily as if I were reciting The Lords Prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mr. Coovelis was tall, wore his hair in a military flat top, dressed spiffily in nice sports coats with patches on the sleeves, starched white shirts highlighted with a hand knotted bow tie, smoked a pipe elegantly, and was as conservative as Mr. Thornton was liberal. He taught U.S. History at Chabot Junior College and there was no better educator on the campus.

I spent three hours a week my freshman year at Chabot from September to June in Mr. Coovelis’s class. I am still amazed at his ability to lecture, discuss, inform and literally be the “ideal” of what an educator should be. He would begin his lectures by writing on the chalkboard at a frenetic pace, talking at the same time, turn around, face the students and go over every issue or fact point by point in a way that the sponge that was my brain absorbed everything he said. He was clear, had a mastery of his material, never passed on a question and enjoyed a good friendly debate. He made me “want” to be in the classroom, open a book, study, write, and challenge myself. I’ll never forget him.

My March column will deal with a teacher who was the complete antithesis of the three gems you read about today.
**After discussing “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” I was ready to take it to the next level. I chose the 6 page epic poem as my piece to read in my Public Speaking Class the same year at Hayward High. I proudly read the poem to the classroom and when I finished there was dead silence. My teacher frowned, furrowed her brow, licked her lips and asked if I thought Prufrock was appropriate for our grade level. I spurted out a couple of things I had learned from the poem and proudly told the teacher we had read Prufrock in Mrs. Buckley’s room. The teacher said that may have been “appropriate” for the English Literature class but not for “our” public speaking class. It was too advanced for our class and since it was too advanced it meant I didn’t “know my audience” thus it was a poor selection for me to read. We argued, I got loud, I ranted, I bellowed, and was given an F and was booted out her class(along with Prufrock) exiled to the library in lieu of her class for an entire week to serve punishment and atone for my sins. I spent my exiled week in the library, leisurely reading and re-reading Prufrock, looking up all the countless allusions and my mind began to grasp just a little bit what as Mrs. Buckley would say, “Now class what is T.S.Eliot trying to say in this passage?” Mrs. Buckley’s magic was working on me and I was smiling the whole time. What a wonderful teacher she was.

Until March, read a book, hug a child, pet a dog, stroke a cat, and be sure to say something nice behind someone’s back.

Posted:  2/4/2011

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