I know: The title looks like some essay assignment that you’d need to stretch into 500 words and finish with a sigh of relief. Finito. And where’s my B+?
I sat here, trying to think of something interesting to write about. Something humorous, witty, honest, unique, and meaningful. And, instead of a subject, I thought of a man. One that I don’t even remember talking to, though I’m sure I did in passing.
Lloyd Richards was an English teacher at the high school I attended in the early 1960’s. Bespectacled, graying and serious on the outside, he was one of those people you’d pass by and probably not even notice.
It wasn’t until he stood before a class, in a day-to-day capacity, and you got to know him, that you appreciated the man and his character. His manner was low-key, soft voiced. I don’t recall him needing to discipline all that much, the fifteen and sixteen year-olds that he taught. He was just a person that connected with kids, with people. He was self-deprecating in a humorous way, yet you found yourself respecting him even more for it. His approach seemed to be half on the subject of English, and the rest on related or unrelated subjects of living.
He was one of those people who you measure things against. How do I conduct myself under certain circumstances? How do I treat others? Can there be humor, even in the depths of sadness?
He’d talk of his sons when they were teenagers – apparently large teenagers – when he would look upward into their eyes and tell them that as long as they parked their shoes under his table, they would follow his instructions. And the twinkle in his eyes told you how much they’d listened.
He’d talk of loss and of death. That a person does their grieving in private. That carrying on in public is more for the griever than the departed.
And he respected his students as well. He didn’t have to say it: You could tell in his actions, in his words.
He gave us an assignment once, to write a sentence or two about life. The next day after the work was handed in, he stood before the class and announced that he’d picked a few of them to read aloud.
No names mentioned, he began to read. With some teachers, the reading would have been rote, mechanical, let’s get this over with, or they would have chosen not to read them aloud at all. With Mr. Richards, it was different.
He handled each piece as though talking intimately with a friend.
And then he came to mine: I could tell from the opening five words. And I tensed up. It was only a sentence long, but I’d put my feelings into it, and now those feelings were on display. The line went like this: Life is like a highway with many twists and turns…and an occasional straight away.
He read it with a tenderness that I remember to this day – an affirmation that my work – that I – was worthy of his respect.
Years later, when I became a special education teacher, I tried, though not always successfully, to emulate the lessons he taught.
Have I conveyed the man to you? I’m not sure. But I do hope that you too had a teacher along the way who taught more than just their subject.
Okay, I’ve gone over 500 words. Now, about that extra credit…