© 2017 Bill Murphy
Who was your favorite teacher? Who was the most memorable, the most unusual? Who was the one most likely NOT to succeed as a teacher today? For me, that could only be Mr. Peter B. Green, 8th grade science, Enochs Junior High, Jackson, MS.
Mr. Green made school FUN! Mr. Green made life fun. I apologize for the poor quality of the WWII era B/W newspaper photo, but it clearly illustrates Mr. Green’s quirky, mischievous grin. That’s how I remember of him. It’s the only photo I have of him.
Today Mr. Green wouldn’t last a day in a public school classroom.
1950s classrooms were far different from what they are today. More expectations were placed upon students. We were expected to pay attention, participate in class, be punctual, be respectful, study, succeed and of course, obey the rules of the classroom/teacher. In Peter B. Green’s classroom, it was understood that he was the teacher, and we were the students. If we wished to live and do well, we accepted our ‘place’ in this ordered, classroom society, where authority was recognized, not challenged. Amazingly, we were happily comfortable in this setting.
Mr. Green had a strong arm and a long wooden paddle. His ‘board of education’ was about 18” long, with a broad, flat business end. It was designed so as to leave neither scars nor bruises. Yet it could inflict a maximum amount of pain per square inch.
There was a firm belief in the 50s that pain was undesirable. It was also believed that students who did not follow the rules, and then received pain upon their softer hinder area for breaking afore said rules, would be deterred in the future from breaking said rules again. Amazingly, this simply cause and effect principle worked 99.9% of the time. It’s a lost art today.
Yes, I sometimes pushed the .1% upper limit. Or would that be ‘lower’ limit?
Rule #1 was the simplest rule of all. BRING YOUR SCIENCE TEXT BOOK TO CLASS. It’s amazing how many students often ‘forgot.’ The book-reminder ceremony was simple: Step back to the doorway, face the hallway, bend over and place hands on the knees. Hold still and receive your just and deserved reward – a single, powerful swat on the seat of knowledge – ‘sending you on the way’ to retrieve your book. I can’t vouch for Mr. Green’s racial beliefs, but I do know that he wasn’t a ‘sexists.’ Boys and girls alike received the SAME book-reminder-retrieval sendoff.
LEAVING an errant book (or gym shorts/tennis shoes) earned a different reward.
Mr. Green surely checked under every desk, every class period. He always knew from which class period a particular item was left. After we’d been given a reading assignment, and our heads dutifully bowed in study, he’d retrieve the offending object, then taking careful aim, throw it at the culprit who’d left the offending item/items. I know this because I peeked. I’d never wanted to miss this ceremony, and witnessed many a pair of tennis shoes bouncing off unsuspecting heads!
Believe it or not, no one ever called the school board, parents, or police.
Did I mention that he really was a great teacher. In addition to teaching us awe and respect for authority, he also taught us the awe and wonder of science. I always looked forward to his class, even test days! Until… One day it became my turn to be on the receiving end.
At the time, I dabbled some with 8th grade level writing, and wrote a clever little poem about Mr. Green. It described his untimely passing on. Not making the heavenly grade, he descended into the great fiery below. I mentioned that he was issued a pitchfork.
But I made the insane mistake of passing the poem around in class.
You guessed it. The gleeful work of Bill the Poet was intercepted. Strangely, he didn’t say a word. I was terrified. I could only imagine what wrath I had kindled inside him.
The next day, I crept into class, literally shaking in fear. Still, No reaction from Mr. Green.
Shortly after class began, he gave us a multi-page reading assignment. Oh no!
I propped my book on the desk like a drive-in theatre screen, to give me some small degree of forward vision. It’s a good thing I did.
Over the top of my book – I saw Mr. Green, fire in his eyes and a devilish grin on his face, marching toward me – A PITCHFORK in hand!
Quick as a flash, I jumped from my seat, and dashed for the door, Mr. Green in hot pursuit. Down the hall I ran, and out the school building door. He was still after me. I ran across the school yard, across the street in front, and into Poindexter Park across the street from the school.
By this time I was winded. Deep down, I reasoned that in all probability he wouldn’t actually run me through with the pitchfork. Probably he wouldn’t. Maybe.
I stopped. He didn’t spear me. Whew!
We walked back to class side by side, laughing together most of the way. I think he even remarked about the cleverness of the poem.
It was one of those rare moments in life that one can never forget – when you’re glad to be alive, and you’ve just experienced an event that is truly rare, memorable, and totally unbelievable. And yes – that pitchfork chase actually happened.
Thanks Mr. Green! And as Bob Hope said and sang, Thanks for the memories!