My father taught at my high school.   I wish that my peers had understood how much he was bridling himself in order to have to spend the day with teenagers.  Being his student, I had an interesting vantage point to tell stories at the dinner table about my English teacher.  He provided many.  Here are a fistful of my favorites.

Because our high school doubled as a church building, there were often stacks of unclaimed Bibles in the lost and found.  My dad chose one of the unclaimed Bibles to keep on his desk in the classroom.  It had been engraved.  A student asked, “Mr. Gordon, who is Retha English?”  With an absolutely deadpan expression, he told the high school student, “That was my name before the operation.”

My dad is a very strong man.  When I was in the 9th grade, one of my classmates (who has since become a marine) believed himself to be large enough to challenge my father.   They got in position to arm wrestle.  My dad signaled, “Go.”  The fifteen year old heaved, grunted, and finally, started pulling with two hands.  My father had an expression on his face that made him seem belabored also.  But his expression suddenly changed, exhibiting that my dad’s “struggle” was a ruse.  The student now seemed an unworthy opponent for my dad.  My dad asked effortlessly, “Are you ready?”  The student, groaning and now confused, bellowed, “Yes!”  “Are you sure you’re ready?”  “Yeah!”   SLAM!  My dad soundly won and said very innocently, “Well, you said you were ready.  Would you like me to let go?”  The student begrudgingly admitted defeat and my dad was never challenged again.

After extensively teaching the forms of adjectives, my dad assigned an exercise where we were to identify and label all the adjectives in their forms.  When the students said that they didn’t understand, he patiently explained again, noting the lessons that he had painstakingly taught all week.  They still contested.  With a hint of exasperation (and it is noteworthy that he never uses profanity), he said, “Underline all of the adjective forms in the passage.  Then, label the KIND of adjective it is.  There are determiners (what our curriculum called articles) like ‘the’ and ‘that,’ regular adjectives like ‘juicy’ and ‘red,’ and modifying nouns like ‘brick’ in ‘brick house’ and ‘feather’ in ‘feather duster.’  If it’s a determiner, write a big D (he demonstrated by writing a large letter D on the board behind him without turning around).  If it’s a good ol’ fashioned adjective, write a big A (and wrote likewise on the board.)  Finally, if it’s a modifying noun, write MN (and modeled on the board without looking at his handiwork).  This (pointed to the board behind him) is what I want you to do!”  He did not realize that his labels were an acronym.  (This was especially entertaining and surprising because my dad never used the, ahem, acronym on the board behind him.)

In 12th grade British Literature, the class watched Macbeth on video after studying the unit on the Shakespearian play.  Near the end, Lady Macbeth began disrobing to deliver her monologue.  My father, who despises public nudity even for the sake of art, would never have shown that to a class, but had been assured that it was safe for school.  When he saw, to his horror, that it was not, he employed his high school football tactics and ran to tv avoiding desks the way that he would have run to an in-zone avoiding defenders.  He wheeled the tv backwards out of the view of students and fast forwarded until all of the characters were decent.  As he was fast forwarding and watching the distorted picture of the VHS tapes, the students were laughing.  They knew that he intended to be above reproach.  One of the boys in my class asked, “Hey, Mr. Gordon, does she look good?”  Without missing a beat, my father responded, “not as good as me.”

One of his classes (eighth graders) was so ill-behaved that he decided to use a Dictaphone to list referrals to write later.  Despite the frustration that he felt for students squandering their education, the silver lining was listening to the “highlight reel” as he wrote referrals and called parents at night.  We heard, “So-and-so is talking out of turn.”  A voice in the background would be murmuring loudly, stop, and respond, “I am not!”  One of the “So-and-sos” did an impression of my dad (years later) using his Dictaphone.   I thanked So-and-so for being such insolent child that he had provided hours of laughter around our dinner table while my dad wrote out his referrals.