How is anyone to know in seventh grade what they’ll be when they grow up? From my school experiences to that point, the one thing I did know was that the last thing I ever wanted to be was a teacher. Bland, boring, there didn’t seem much to appreciate about them. Until I met my Industrial Arts instructor.
Mr. Silvey. The entertainer.
On the first day of class, with his thick, black southern accent, I listened to Old Man Silvey modify, if not maul, student names during roll call.
“An, An, An–a, Anabird?”
“Here,” I said.
“Bear, Bear-a, Bear-a-Bear-a Bearatrone?
“Here,” Bertron said.
“Cor, Cor, Cordit, Cordedreedio?”
“Si,” Peppy Cordero said. Shy, reclusive Peppy was Eastern Junior High’s only Mexican. Because of Mr. Silvey’s pronunciation, however, Peppy was now known as Cordedreedio to everyone in class, perhaps the whole school.
By the time Mr. Silvey got to the end of the alphabet and, “Val, Val, Val-val-val-val Stee Val?” – the real Steve Val looked impressed Mr. Silvey had gotten a name just about right.
After roll, Mr. Silvey kept the enunciation Olympics going, describing to the class the great shop project he saved for last every year, the “the dee … dee … dee … fis shape coin holda … widda … fell-cova unnerside like you see here, boys.” As I watched him stroke the smooth shellac coating of what we interpreted to be something called a deep fish-shaped coin holder he displayed in his hand, I knew I had to make one of these fine, wood products.
Then came the second day, the real first day of Mr. Silvey’s Industrial Arts course.
Sitting at my workbench, I watched Mr. Silvey snap shut his attendance book and announce, “Na, na, naz time for … film, ah ‘Warnin’: Safey Firs,’ boys.”
“Uh no,” the tall, pimply guy sitting next to me said. “Not ‘Safety First.’ Last year, three guys left class to go to the nurse after watchin’ that film. One kid didn’t make it and puked everywhere.”
“Puked? From watching the film?”
“Believe me, I saw it. Some real gory shit.”
“What, the puke?”
“No, the blood ‘n guts ‘n all. You’re gonna die watchin’ this film.”
If the film was that gruesome, it’d make somebody throw up today for sure, which would make me do a rebound throw up. I made up my mind I’d close my eyes through the entire movie.
And I did. Almost. I peeked. Twice. The first time, I saw a giant, curly-shaped burr get shot out from a two ton drill machine that mangled some kid’s face. The second peek, a grisly operation on the kid’s eyeball, followed by another operation on a kid’s arm, shredded to fibers from an even worse shop catastrophe.
When silence filled the room and the lights came on, I scanned for pale, puke-prone faces and wobbly gaits, but saw kids celebrating the film instead, reveling in real life gore. How sick. I didn’t get it. With all the blood and guts, why would anyone want to be in this class, let alone teach it? This is “art?” Who is Mr. Silvey?
For weeks after, the only power machine I got near was the soft cloth buffer. Not only unthreatening to life or limb, students who operated the buffer didn’t have to wear safety goggles, and ours were disgusting. Who knew who put the oily layer of skuzz all over them? Some geek with acne? A kid with flu? One of the grease balls guidance counselors dumped in shop classes every year?
In choosing so many buffer projects, I never got to make the coveted end-of-year fish-shaped coin holder. A lot of guys in class saw me as slow; Mr. Silvey did not. Instead, he encouraged me with what I could do. Come May, sensing my interest in the unpopular, mundane plastic envelope project, Mr. Silvey gave me the project’s plans, master template and my very own bright green piece of plastic pulled from his personal locked cabinet of materials.
By the end of his course, I saw Mr. Silvey not as a teacher with oddities, but man of empathy, enthusiasm. He reached me. He got it. He was my favorite teacher.
Bored in all my other classes, I drew caricatures of teachers during lectures. Caricatures of the male instructors came easiest. They fashioned outrageous sideburns, moustaches and beards – even nose and ear hair if they could grow it.
It wasn’t long before I’d identified a curious subset of middle-aged, balding instructors who exhibited something I labelled “the angle of incidence = the angle of reflectance” principle. This rule posited that teachers with little hair above the eye line had more forced hair growth below it, suggesting the angle of reflected bald head surface above equaled the greater incidence of hair below. And, interestingly enough, I found that the angle of incidence rule was true mostly of math and science teachers (fortunately only the males).
Wasn’t this the work of a true genius, a student far from average, with tremendous art ability to boot? Except for Mr. Silvey, none of my teachers saw this. I didn’t get it. And why did anyone become a teacher if he wasn’t interested in inspiring students to do something great, or at least, motivate them to be the best they could be?
Mr. Silvey cared. He helped me see how teachers could motivate students: in his case, much through an entertaining delivery as anything else. I saw how important teacher inspiration was to student learning and, in the process, it angered me how teachers failed to motivate students. In fact, it angered me a lot. You could say it even motivated me.
How was I to know eighteen years later I’d be a teacher? Go figure. I even taught art, all a reflection upon one very entertaining and empathetic instructor – Mr. Rozell Silvey.
This was an excerpt from the chapter, “Education,” in my memoir, Maybe Boomer.