The Teacher

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a living story about a dying art.

Submitted: October 02, 2013

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Submitted: October 02, 2013



This is a story that I have to write. I’m quite certain I am somehow obligated by some deep and cursed universal power which lurks behind the scenes of my life and all of our lives. This is the story of the legend who was my teacher. This one is for free.


Everyone gets to a point in their life when they are frightened. We pretend we grow up because we look at our lives and we see the proof that we’ve done the things that we all knew as children only grown-ups can do. We assume that we can handle this stuff because we are mostly very capable people. We surround ourselves with proof that we are in control. Then, for some reason we can not understand, life does something unexpected … see, it’s the unexpected part that is the hardest, because we get used to the idea that the things we love will always be there, then they are not, and we have to completely redefine our whole world, erasing parts of it that we were not prepared to erase, did not want to erase, had no choice but to erase. Not knowing why is what is the most frightening, because when you don’t know why, you must face the fact that you can’t stop it from happening again.


These are the reticent concourses of our lives. If we are very fortunate, as we are standing there with our baggage of confusion and self pity, the exact right person comes along to point out which direction we must now go in, which train we must get on for our lives to be back on track.


I was fortunate. I know more than half a dozen people who would say the exact same about this man coming into their lives when they needed him the most. His name is not important. But his story… if I had one thing that I could give to this world that I know in my heart would make it a better place, it would be the teachings of this guy. The world needs these kinds of people and the stories they tell with their lives. So I will give you a piece of this man.


In 2009, I began an obsessive search for reasons why everyone, myself included, seemed so broken. I entered college as a 29 year old single mother. I had this idea that I could beat this thing somehow. Save my family. I would just march in there, figure everything out, grab a degree, get into law school or grad school, then a life of politics where I could fix things so people would be nicer and behave and the world wouldn’t be filled with so many people who look so empty. That’s how life is supposed to be. You see how fortunate I was this man was the first teacher I had my first day of school?


I wonder if you have pictured this man that I hold in highest of regard? What packages do we expect our heroes to come in?


I will tell you, when he asked who I would have play him in the movie Hallmark should, but never will make, I absolutely would pick Robert Di Nero. Goodfellas vintage. In reality, he’s an old guy who walks slowly to class, doesn’t know the difference between a smart board and a dry erase board and makes philosophic jokes only two people in the room get. He yells a lot and sometimes makes really nice girls cry. He also randomly throws out hip-hop references.


On the very first night I met him, he yelled at me. I raised my hand to ask him a question, intent on saving the world from the start. Granted, the first night of Intro to American Government may not have been the proper place to solve the greatest question man has ever faced, but he yelled at me amidst thirty other students on my first day of school!


If I had to give you the exact moment I woke up and decided not to fail, it would be that moment, the night I was yelled at by the man who would become my teacher.


For my entire journey since 2009 until now, this man has done more than teach, he has given me guidance. I am certain that teaching me had to have been a nightmare. He always would say “Safley, quit trying to do this the hard way.” He knew I had to do it the hard way, though. I had to know why I knew what I knew. That can not be easy for a teacher, not when everyone else is just giving out answers without following up on the why part. He brought me through it anyway. He brought all of us who needed to know through.


Why has our world forgotten that being taught is a privilege?


These last few years have been hard for him. He’d probably be pissed if he knew that I said that, (Forget about it Safley, dontchoo got enough problems to fix) but since I haven’t mentioned his name he can bite me, because his story is one that doesn’t need to be lost.


Education has become a disposable process of memorization and the beauty of the moment of discovery is lost. The right teacher can unlock a person in extraordinary ways. When every other class had moved to multiple choice and study guides, he stayed with the blue book essays. If a student needed to make a grade to play sports and that student didn’t try, he failed the student. If students didn’t come to the class or gave excuses, he screwed his face into exaggerated fake tears and mocked them in the midst of their pity party. He called us out, embarrassed us when we were wrong and cornered us, made us answer our own questions and made us hold each other accountable. He showed us the way, gave us the tools, and was there as we tried to dig on our own to the answers.


He was called by the university to answer for his methods and instead of changing with the changing university setting, he continued on in this manner. He believed in teaching for the purpose of teaching and would not accept or give up when told. To do so would mean to turn away from what he knew to be right. My teacher was and is hated by a lot of people. There are worse things than to be hated.


Do you have an idea of who this man is? I hope I made it very clear he was not a kindly teacher with some radiant glow of peace and good will.


I really want you to see who this man is. Wait.


In 2011, I was taking seven classes and working three part time jobs pieced around the schedules of myself and my children. I would go months without a day free. I worked a ten hour over night shift bartending in a club Thursdays through Sundays. On Thursdays and Fridays, I slept in between classes in my van. I thought I could get through it because I had to. During that period, I barely had time with my children and even though I worked constantly, I never had any money. I began to fear I wasn’t going to make it. I’d have to give up school and I’d lose my grant money. Without a degree, I’d never have a chance to make it as a single mom.


I kept going to classes, barely, and this man I am telling you about started asking questions about my performance. My teacher isn’t the kind of man who comes across as concerned about the reasons behind the unawesome state of my hair. He mocked me and said there were no excuses and told me to sit up straight. Then one day he called me into his office, I was running on no sleep and knew the worst was coming. Instead, he said sit down then told me a story about a student he had who had gone through the same classes a decade before. The student had gone on to law school. This man had found his way, he’d made it. Only he hadn’t had it easy either. He’d been a single parent in college as well. Then, when he’d gotten to the place he was heading he looked back and felt the words of my teacher, words that had become a part of him and had carried him over the years. He felt he had to do something so he came to my teacher and told him to find a person who, with opportunity, might do the same.


You must understand that we are dealing with a scholarship at a state university. There are rules. Here is this man with his check and a clear statement of intent, both of which were completely unorthodox. The university explained to him the procedures which were written in a book. THIS is the way. The only way. Only this guy was clever. He knew that universities are businesses and he wasn’t interested in investing in what was best for the university. He wanted to help someone like himself; someone who doesn’t qualify the normal way. He wanted to give more than just a scholarship. And when they told him, “I’m sorry, that’s not the way,” - I mean, we are talking about a teacher that more than a few of the staff members do not like, and who has caused the board an uncomfortable meeting or two – this man said fine, if you do not allow me to give this money in this way through this man, you are effectively taking money from a student who needs it.


The only thing worse than bending the rules is bad press.


I like to picture my teacher’s reaction. Shrugging in that way like he doesn’t care about anyone anywhere, Whaddya want me to do? He says he’ll only do this if you let me pick, I can’t control these wise guys…


It was against the rules, but it was right. And they were bold and they stood up.


He picked me. I cried. I was worse than broke, it was Christmas.


Then he told me, you know what this means, dontcha, Safley? You gotta find a way.


So I try. I didn’t have anything last year, but I found a way. Another student of his and I turned trash into money. Even if the way isn’t clear, there are always ways. We raised money and did it again and I will keep doing it, every year, because they had the courage enough to do it for me.


This is my teacher.


He’s hard and vague and other than his wife’s name and a story about ugly Christmas socks, I don’t know much about him as a person. But I love him a little because he showed me something and that something follows me in everything I do.


This is my teacher. He lived the lessons he taught. Those who paid attention will never unlearn them.


These are my teacher’s lessons:


People do not belong in boxes. Hard, angry men can sometimes show you an unflinching love you will never find on tv. Don’t put people in boxes. Don’t try to push yourself into one. Boxes are just square caves.


The ideals are real. I will be disappointed as long as I keep striving. I know how far we are from truth, love, loyalty, freedom, inner strength, integrity … But I know as long as I truly strive with those things as my guide, I will live and not merely survive.


The world is broken and can not be fixed, but that was never the point. Nobody can achieve perfection, if they could it wouldn’t be perfection. Those who pretend to be perfect are the cowards who can’t face themselves. Those who have enough courage live in the world as it is with what they have, which is each other.


We have a gift that nothing else on the planet has, (do shoes have free will? Do sharks chose to murder other sharks, Safley?? No! We alone have free will) we have the gift of choice. What choice? Has it ever changed? We have the choice to live in ignorance or with the truth of good and evil.


Love thy neighbor as thyself, the golden rule that predates and was the message of Christ, does not have any qualifying clauses.


Have a noble goal, clearly assess all obstacles, then do everything in your power to see that goal to its end.


The rules are there because people can’t be trusted. But sometimes the rules are wrong and the game is rigged. At these points, history is at a reticent concourse in life and if we are very lucky someone is bold and prudent enough to stand up and show us the way to get back on track. True historical people like Lincoln, Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.


And if we find others who can not stand up because they do not know how, we must stand up because we can.


If you want answers for our country, they are in people like my teacher who are guided by internal demands of accountability to the things just beyond the guidelines. There are leaders and there are politicians. One gives you the power; the other gets power from you.


Anyway. This is my teacher, he showed me something and told me I had to show other people and this is one of my ways. His is a beautiful story and someone should tell it.


© Copyright 2018 R Safley. All rights reserved.

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