For me, it was Mr. Farrell, my grade nine teacher.
I was thinking about him while reading the Globe and Mail series this week about the problem boys are having in the school system. The issue I was reading addressed the lack of male elementary teachers. It theorized that that the lack of male role models together with female teachers inability to understand or recognize normal boy behaviour has contributed to the “effeminization” of teaching.
I was taught by Sisters (Nuns) in grade school. It was a time when what was expected of boys and girls was clearly defined. For instance, even though I would have preferred to play on the girls side at recess, I was sent to the inner yard that was guarded by a couple of Sisters and sometimes our Parish priest. I kicked a soccer ball around or with some other guys,chased down the weakest kid in the class and cornered him by the church wall. We were like pride of lions hunting a wounded Wildebeest on a concrete savanna. It wasn’t bullying; just boys being boys.
June Cleavers (may she rest in peace). These particular nuns belonged to an order of missionaries that served in the Congo. They could deliver a solid uppercut to a rowdy student quicker than you can say a “Hail Mary”.
I was under Sister power until grade eight. With a year wasted at junior high, I met Mr. Farrell at our school board building where I was lobbying stubbornly to be transferred to his school. He had a strict reputation, which was I I thought I needed after having totally flunked the year before. Coincidentally, he was there at the same time and although his class was already over sized, he allowed me the transfer.
A confirmed bachelor, he was the subject of some neighbourhood gossip. I didn’t care. He was like no grown man that II had ever known; smart, classy, well dressed and very principled. That he seemed to take a shine to me, was very flattering to a confused and self-conscious sixteen year old.!
I’m guessing that he saw something of himself in me. He certainly had me pegged. Not that it was difficult. I was the boy who tried to convince his friends that my sudden blond streaks were from the sun – in December!
He encouraged my drawing and persuaded me to form a drama club. In return, I had only to be a very good student and get good grades. I come from a long history of “C’s”. I thought passing was accomplishment.
Mr. Farrell was very strict. Regardless of how he felt about me personally, he never showed favouritism in class. I blossomed under the attention and encouragement. Math suddenly made sense. History actually was interesting.
He took me to his home once. While riding in his car, “Up, Up & Away” played on the radio.
" Now, that's music!" The drug subtext was totally lost on him.
At his place, he prepared a snack and told me about himself; his family etc. We talked more about music and he pulled out an album and asked if I like musicals.
Apart from the Broadway songs I saw performed on The Ed Sullivan Show (which I watched religiously) I couldn’t say if I did. I’ve never seen one. So he played the cast album of Brigadoon for me. Although II thought the music a bit high-brow, I really got into it as he narrated the story as the album played out. Born to us that day was a new Musical Comedy Queen.
Mr. Farrell never put a move on me. He never gave me any indication that he expected anything in return. I regret that sometimes I betrayed that loyalty by not defending him when my friends joked about him being “queer”. I didn’t want to be seen as the teacher’s pet or be gay by association. I was a coward. It still haunts me.
I think of Mr. Farrell often, I’m not sure if the impression he made on me was because he was the first male teacher I had, or because he was the first teacher I had that recognized something special in me.
Many guys feel hesitant to enter teaching. Fear of false sexual harassment charges and the hyper sensitivity about of any kind of physical contact discourages a man to be an elementary teacher. That is too bad. I think they’re much needed.
Did you have a teacher like Mr. Farrell?
Or one like Mr. Peterson…(video below)
Mr. Peterson – Perfume Genius (lyrics)
With notes attached
Of a place and time
Or how my body kept him up at night
He let me smoke weed in his truck
If I could convince him I loved him enough
Enough, enough, enough, enough
He made me a tape of Joy Division
He told there was a part of him missing
When I was sixteen
He jumped off a building
I know you were ready to go
I hope there’s room for you up above
Or down below.