Everyone has a favorite teacher

We were going to pen something supportive of this week’s BEST Night Out to support Bainbridge public schools (see story, page A2) – until a quicker (and probably better) writer came along and stole our ink. So we’ll gladly hand over our space for this issue to Tom Tyner, for some wisdom and wit in the inimitable Latte Guy style.

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The best teacher I ever had was a wiry old guy in a thin, short-sleeved white shirt and skinny black neck tie named Kenneth Rawlinson. He was an intensely brilliant man whose lot in life was to teach social studies and current events to testosterone-infused high school boys and uber-cool high school girls. Mr. Rawlinson was also a bit of an eccentric.

A straight-laced family man, he drove a Volkswagen bus and worshipped New Orleans jazz. On days when we were doing in-class reading or taking a test, he’d sit at his desk at the back of the room drinking coffee from a Winchell’s Donut Shop paper cup. When he thought no one was watching him, he’d raise his cup and offer a quiet toast before taking his first sip. Sometimes he’d offer his daily toast to the Catholic Church, the Queen of England, the League of Nations or to Louis Armstrong. He once offered a quiet toast to Robert Kennedy, and I think I saw a tear in his eye.

Mr. Rawlinson had a dry and off-beat sense of humor. One day he told us that he and fellow history teacher Geoffrey Chow had met each other during the Korean War when he was an American MP and Mr. Chow was a North Korean prisoner of war. We all sat in silent awe of this exotic information, until one of us worked up the nerve to ask Mr. Chow about it. Mr. Chow laughed and told us that he had been born in Cincinnati and had never set foot in Korea in his life. The next day, Mr. Rawlinson smiled all morning and offered his daily toast to “youthful gullibility.”

I’m willing to bet that each of us has a Mr. Rawlinson in our past. You probably don’t remember who was on People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People List last year or who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2004, or who came out on top in the most recent American Idol contest, but I suspect that each of us could name our first grade teacher, our favorite middle school teacher, and that one high school teacher who saw the promise in us and inspired us to go into a particular field or challenged us to go out in the world and make something out of our lives rather than just live out our years.

Teaching is all about exuberance and wit, humor and rigor, energy and compassion. It is both a sacrifice and a gift. Teaching is all about a Mr. Rawlinson spinning tales into the expectant air of a high school classroom, where it is inhaled and digested and treasured by young men and women who are transformed by the experience without even being aware of it at the time. The future success of those kids is a priceless reward to our island teachers in return for their gifts and their sacrifices on our children’s behalf.

BEST is one small way that our community can further recognize and honor the gifts and sacrifices that our island teachers make every day of the school year. I’ve never heard anyone complain that teachers as a class of workers are overpaid, and doing what we can to help make their jobs better through BEST is one way that we can all thank the Mr. Rawlinsons in our lives. Please join me in giving generously to support BEST.

Thank you all, and thank you, Mr. Rawlinson. But for the record, I never really believed that story about Mr. Chow....

– Tom Tyner, The Latte Guy

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