The Blackboard Jungle  

Bad teacher

Mr. Eldridge was waiting for retirement. I learned within minutes that he was a mean-spirited man who despised his students.

He definitely needed a break. But for that time and place, about 40 years ago, he was my mentor.

And there I was, a fresh, young lad who couldn’t stop smiling because I’d made it into my teaching practicum, and I couldn’t wait to get started. I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

And there they were — Mr. Eldridge’s motley-looking Grade 7 students. Most of them looked rough around the edges and street wise — lots of tuques, jean jackets, and hoodies.

I just kept smiling at them and they smiled back, not because I was trying to manipulate them, but because I was just so happy to be there. I think they could sense that.

This was my first practicum, so I was required to observe and take notes one day and teach the next. I sat quietly at the back of the room and did my job diligently.

What a strange opportunity it was to sit and watch a teacher show me what not to do, and then how it played out in the enthusiasm and behaviour of his students.

I did learn one very valuable thing though from Mr. Eldridge. He showed me how to “cook” a register.

Back in the day, teachers had to calculate all absences for a whole month and then cross reference them. It all had to add up. He showed me how to cheat and “cook it”; an educational milestone from Mr. Eldridge. Thank you.

On my first day of observations, about 10 a.m., Mr. Eldridge walked over to Charlie Miller, who had his head down on his desk. He stood motionless attracting the attention of the entire class.

They froze as he grabbed Charlie’s collar and yanked him to a sitting position. Charlie immediately awoke from a deep slumber. He looked embarrassed as he gave a few furtive glances from side to side keeping his head down.

Oddly, there was only a slight “titter” from the students, which died down almost as soon as it had started.

Mr. Eldridge looked over at me with a callous smile as if to say, “See. This is how it’s done, boy.”

My face remained dead pan as the class turned to see my reaction. Mr. Eldridge seemed a little annoyed at my lack of reverence and roughly let Charlie go. He walked back to his  desk at the front of the class, safely separated from his students.

Behind his back, Terry Slade, a girl wearing a black tuque and a jean jacket, put her hand gently on Charlie’s shoulder.

“Oh, Charlie will be just fine,” Mr. Eldridge bellowed joyfully at Terry as he turned around. Then, he went into a tirade about the U.S.A., the U.S.S.R., a handshake in outer space, Henry Kissinger “détente.”

He talked around the subject as if to keep it some kind of secret only the anointed few could understand. The students were oblivious.

After his mystifying talk he asked, “So, then, who can define détente?” He surveyed the class.

No one moved. If the principal had walked in right then, she might have said, “What an attentive, well-behaved class.”

Then, Mr. Elridge looked back at me. That cruel smile came into view and my greatest fear was realized. “Perhaps Mr. Knight can tell us what détente means.”

The students turned and looked at me. Suddenly, the English language became a complete mystery to me. I couldn’t speak. I had no idea what détente meant.

Of course, I should have. I should have been “up” on current events if I wanted to be a teacher. Mr. Eldridge shook his head and continued with his “teaching”. I felt embarrassed and small.

He didn’t acknowledge me at all for the rest of the lesson.

Just as I was leaving the class, dejectedly, Terry Slade, Charlie Miller, and about six other students came running up to me. “It’s OK, Mr. Knight. We know how you feel,” said one of them. The rest nodded.

“When are you going to teach us?” they asked.

“Tomorrow,” I replied.

They all screamed “Yahoo!!” and ran down the hall. I couldn’t wait until the next day.

Footnote: Later, I found out that Charlie had been awake most of the night because of his father’s wild party.


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About the Author


Richard Knight is a retired educator living in Kelowna. During his 30 plus years as an educator, he taught pretty much everything from primary to the junior high (now called Middle School).

His experiences generated many memorable stories, which is what this column is about.

He also gained some valuable experience at the university level as a faculty adviser in the Faculty of Education at UBCO.

Until recently, Richard wrote his column The Blackboard Jungle for The Daily Courier.

This was a mixture of fond memories and some political commentary. Now, Richard would like present his column on Castanet.

He can reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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