Friday, October 9, 2015
Mr. Tufts was quite funny. He sometimes used foreign accents ("That is a propah noun!"). He gave everyone cryptic nicknames (still trying to figure out mine, "BillyMikal"). He had a long wooden switch he would occasionally clutch and wield that he dubbed "The Stick". He concocted some elaborate fantasy of how it was once part of a magic tree. One of my trouble making classmates named Rodney was dubbed "Yendor" and described by Tufts as a super villain, a nemesis. The byplay between them was quite lively. And one day our teacher played Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good", not for any sort of lyrical analysis, but just because he loved the song. My teacher also had this specific fondness for peach flavored Nehi soda.
But make no mistake, Tufts was serious about the mechanics of grammar: conjugation, diagramming, subject/verb agreement, parallelism. He would drill us hard, then break out with something like "Remember, not snot a verb". Get it? He incorporated high and lowbrow humor into his lessons, and I'm sure many things flew past me. We devoured literature. I'd love to watch/hear/read transcripts of our classes. All I have left are memories.
I think about Thomas Tufts often, even nearly 35 years later. Did you have a teacher like this? Who not only inspired you but created lifelong instillation of knowledge and love for the English language, the arts. Or whatever subject he or she taught. Maybe not unlike Mr. Keating from DEAD POETS SOCIETY. Tufts' methods involved humor that, while sometimes at the expense of others, were always designed to jolt us out of mediocrity. To warn us to eventually become something more than a "slop jockey".
I actually had several memorable English teachers. My 10th grade instructor, Mr. Trotsky, had similar desires for his students but his methods were verrrrry different than those of Tufts. I'll save that for another time.
But with all that, Mr. Tufts also predicated something in '81/'82 that seems to be truer every day: "Someday we'll all probably just be robot polishers". Even those of his pupils would go on to become surgeons can't counter that prediction.