Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can't Never Did Anything

An ostrich-like man, he sat in the front row of the theatre, left leg crossed over the right, with the left foot tucked again behind the right ankle. A double- cross of sorts.  And both feet flat on the floor. Really. He was that skinny. Coffee thermos at his feet, cigarette in his hand, smoke making puffy clouds above his head. This is how I always envision the most important teacher in my life.

A very shy sophomore, I don't know what possessed me when I signed up for Drama I.  I never wanted to be the center of attention and certainly never did anything that might make people laugh at me. But he saw something in me that I didn't know was there. He was gentle at first. "Porter, you should come out for contest speech. The meeting is next week." Then came, "Porter, you should try out for the spring play."  He wanted me. I belonged somewhere. I came home.

Rehearsals became the best learning experiences ever. He would stomp up to the stage, playing every character at times, just to cajole us into seeing his vision. He was a hard taskmaster, and I have never learned more in my life than I did during my time with him. He never accepted less than your best.

Quickly, newcomers learned never to utter the dreaded, "I can't". A believer in the phrase "I yell because I care", the words "Can't never did anything!"  would echo through the theatre when anyone tried to explain why they couldn't do something. No one ever laughed at the unfortunate whiner because we knew the feeling. We also knew he was right.

To this day, although I am sometimes still uncomfortable in new situations and trying new things, I do them anyway. I do not say "I can't" before I have even tried. I do not say "I can't" when I am afraid of being laughed at. I do not say "I can't" when in unfamiliar territory. Because somewhere up in heaven the words "Can't never did anything" will thunder across the sky.

RIP, Mr. Niceswanger. Your legacy lives on.


  1. I hope that I am that kind of teacher, & I suspect from the writing about teaching you have shared that you are that kind. What a great tribute to this man, the one who showed you that you had value, that you could do whatever you set your goals for. I like that phrase "I yell because I care." Maybe it will work its way into my vocabulary!

  2. Wouldn't you like to just get into someone's head and travel back in time and see yourself through their eyes? What did they see? Why you? What was it? I had one teacher who was like that; who noticed quiet little me, for whatever reason, and helped to make me be my best. What did he see? Or maybe he really saw all. I need to remember to see all, and make them all feel that they are the most special one in the room!

  3. Thanks ladies. He is one of the many great teachers who inspired me to become a teacher. I hope I do him proud. I was reading an article about him in the hometown newspaper and there were many comments like mine. He was passionate about what he did

  4. I think you did him proud when you wrote this piece and continue to live your life with his words echoing in your head. This was a lovely tribute to someone who made a difference in your life. Well done!

  5. The stage was my second classroom. I hope my students remember our time together the way you remember your time with this special teacher

  6. What a great post and reflection on an inspiring teacher. I just love hearing stories about teachers who have inspired others. I love your quote ,"I yell because I care!" your post let's us all know that you care too.

  7. I, too, had an inspiring teacher in high school which lead me to the love of writing. He wasn't as dramatic as your drama teacher, but he cared and made me just do it--write!!! I copied "Can't never did anything" into my writers notebook today! Thanks.