One Hooraw Of a Teacher
MORE often than you'd suppose, my thoughts turn to one of my high school teachers. She remains vivid these going-on 70 years later while so many of the others have faded.
She was by no means a good-looker; quite otherwise. She was stringy, poor thing, and had a carrot head of hair that refused to behave. The pug at the back of her neck escaped into fronds. Her face was the opposite of attractive and suggested the qualities of a Wampanoag tomahawk. She never smiled.
She kept discipline by adroit sarcasm - a pupil needing remonstrance would be withered by a caustic remark that struck home and needed no follow-up. She was equally adroit with compliments when merited. She was, indeed, a hooraw of a teacher, and the school board recognized her talents and paid her the same salary as the principal. He taught Latin besides coaching baseball, putting up and taking down the flag, and keeping the main room.
Miss Williams, for that was her name, taught mathematics, geometry, physics, and chemistry, and was in command of the laboratory.
In retrospect that laboratory amazes me - how did our small-town high school, with less than 100 pupils, manage a science lab on the meager funds of those days? There wasn't that much to know about physics and chemistry then, yet we were instructed adequately right up to the latest discovery.
For that matter, how did we happen to have four years of Latin? That was long before the cry that we must spend more money to hire better teachers, and Miss Williams and our principal were both paid $850 a year.
Our lab did have enough for the basics, and it was a moving educational experience to see Miss Williams crank the static machine and make Everett Flanders's hair stand on end. Everett didn't mind being shocked.
"Archimedes is still our best authority on kinetics," Miss Williams would say as we put the scales to the little cart on the downhill cant.
I never "took" chemistry from Miss Williams, but Johnny Snow, my chum, did. Johnny was the minister's son and had a license to do strange things, so one afternoon Miss Williams left right after the last bell, and Johnny and I sneaked into the lab and made some stink bombs.
I never heard what he did with them, but he said something about the midweek prayer meeting. The one we tried out behind the schoolhouse was a beaut.
I did take physics, but not enough to get involved in the attendant mathematics. I got the stuff about horsepower and calories. We played with the Wheatstone Bridge and we made a storage battery.
We also filled drinking glasses with different depths of water and learned to play "My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean" and "Scotland's Burning." But before we sang these tunes, Miss Williams would close the lab door so we couldn't disturb the sophomore French class. That was then, and nobody much had given a thought to riding to the moon.
One day we filed into class and Miss Williams gave us each a blank sheet of paper. "Those who can spell laboratory may go there," she said. Three of us, Berta and Ellen and I, wrote l-a-b-o-r-a-t-o-r-y, and Miss Williams motioned us across the hall. The others in the class looked forlorn and began going to the dictionary, and it was quite some time before they joined Berta and Ellen and me.
Miss Williams said, "I expected the Latin students would know, and I'd been surprised if anybody else did." Ellen and Berta and I were the three classicals who lingered into Vergil.
Miss Williams said, "In England that question would be a cinch. Over there they say lab-bore-atory." Labor omnia vincit! Miss Williams also gave us a little talk to the effect that Newton's discoveries were explained with a Latin title, and nobody should exclude anything from the pursuit of science. Berta and Ellen and I were pleased.
To show you how fine a teacher Miss Williams was: After I finished high school I met her in the post office one afternoon, and she said, "By the way - what did you and Johnny Snow ever do with those stink bombs?"