A Failing Grade in English
Although I had developed quite early in my life a knack for languages, I was not doing very well in the English course. In spite of my efforts, especially in the last two senior grades, I failed to obtain a passing grade. To overcome my apparent deficiencies I even enrolled in an independent commercial correspondence course. I began to read English novels, exchanged notes and worked with friends, wrote a research paper on the British welfare system, all to no avail. Mr. M., our English teacher, used a rigid, my-way-only teaching approach, which I dreaded and which caused me to have nightmares. This young and inexperienced teacher had a peculiar way of marking our written work. For each grammatical error he would put a big cross in red ink on the margin of the test paper. No matter how good the essay was, no matter how well the student expressed his thoughts, the final grade would never be better than a mere satisfactory mark. But if one received two of those red marks, as was often the case with my work, the best one could hope for was a D (a 5 on a scale from 1 to 6). This method was stifling my creativity. For me the only way to squeeze out a satisfactory result was to write as little as possible in an effort to avoid those fearful crosses. Mr. M., of course, noticing my attempts of circumventing the grammatical pitfalls, now zeroed in with vengeance on the sketchy details and evaluated my writing as scanty and deficient. It became very clear to me then that I could not develop my true potential in an atmosphere of paralyzing fear and indeed I wound up with an unsatisfactory grade on my graduation certificate.
We had teachers, whom we feared and despised, teachers, whom we feared and respected, and teachers, whom we loved and respected. One of the latter was Mr. Müller, our math teacher in the senior grades. He presented his lessons on analytical geometry and calculus with clarity and a sense of humor. Being still in his early thirties, he was in touch with what made an adolescent mind tick. He gained our respect through his profound knowledge of the subject matter, his enthusiasm for mathematics and his ability to infuse in us understanding and even love for the queen of science. He often introduced a new topic with a joke. To warm us adolescents up to the trigonometric functions hinting with a meaningful twinkle in his eyes at their beautiful curves, he told us the joke about a teacher in an all-girls high school in the lower grades. One day the young girls asked him a question during the math lesson, “What are sine functions, Mr. T?”
He promptly answered while revealing his knowledge of ancient languages, “The word ‘sine’ is derived from the Latin ‘sinus’ and means bosom. But you will get that later in the upper grades.” No doubt, that joke and many others of this kind appealed to us boys being in that volatile stage of development sandwiched between child- and adulthood.
To be continued in the New Year …