Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Can't Never Did Anything


An ostrich. That's what he always reminded me of. A very tall man, he wore black framed glasses that always seemed to be at the end of his Jimmy Durante nose.  He was about as big around as a corn stalk, with the longest, skinniest legs I'd ever seen on human being. He could sit in a chair, cross the left leg over the right,  then tuck the left foot behind the right leg and have both feet FLAT on the floor.

Really. Try it. Then get back to me.

He scared the crap out of me the first time I had him for class. It seemed like he bellowed all the time. He didn't, but it seemed like it. He treated everyone the same, whether they were in plays or not. If you took a speech or drama class from him, then you better be ready to perform. And you better do your best. When he came up to me and asked me to try out for the school play, I was afraid to say no.

But I was also thrilled.

That was Mr. Gail Niceswanger (how'd you like that name as a high school teacher?)--my high school speech and drama coach. The greatest teacher I ever had.

During rehearsals, there was the ever present thermos of coffee at his feet, a pencil tucked behind his ear, and, if rehearsals were going all sorts of wrong, there was a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and a cloud of smoke circling his head.

Mr. Niceswanger never let you give anything less than your best. As a sophomore, out for my first play, I made the mistake of telling him I couldn't do something he'd asked of me.

"Porter," (he seldom called people by their first names), "Can't never did anything."

Huh?

But I got it.  If you don't try things, you don't know if you can do them.  You have to at least try.

I worked harder for him than at any time in my life.  I like to think he smiles down on me when he sees me coaching speech and taking kids to All-State. I like to think he approves of the activities in my speech and (yea) drama classes (next year!).

I never thanked him for the confidence he gave me during my high school years. I believe if it wasn't for him, I would have given up, not graduated college, never became a teacher, even though it's all I ever wanted to do.

Sometimes, we teach kids more than reading and writing and math.

Sometimes, we give them wings.

So, thanks Mr. Niceswanger.  I wouldn't be here without you.




20 comments:

  1. This is a wonderful tribute to a man who sounds like a remarkable teacher. I love your description at the beginning of your post. I can visualize him so clearly and I have to admit it; I tried to cross my legs like he did-- didn't even come close!

    I also think he taught you well because I believe you give your children wings too!

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    1. Thanks, Tracy. He truly was one of the best

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  2. First of all, you have such a great memory!! I could never remember those kind of details! Love this sentiment to a great teacher that challenged you. My favorite is your last lines because I agree, we teach so much more than just reading and writing and math. So glad he gave you wings. :)

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  3. What a wonderful tribute to a special man (he sounds like someone who could carry off a name like that!).

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  4. Love your tribute. Beautiful. Brought to tears to my eyes to see how he affected you then and still.

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  5. Wow, love all the details you put into your description. I can picture him perfectly! (And yes, I did try to put my legs like that and there's no way! And I have long legs!!!) I just LOVE the way you shared just enough little snippets of him: his appearance, his actions, a few of his words... to show us who he was and how he taught. You've made me want to write a post like this about some of my favorite teachers...

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  6. This is my goal, to be a teacher like this (only without the smoking^^). Beautiful post.

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    1. Yea...the smoking wasn't so great, but it was the 70's and acceptable.

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  7. Great post - no wonder you are such a great teacher!!! I'm sure if I delved into the throes of my memory that I could come up with a teacher or individual who pushed, directed, guided, etc. me to be who I am today. I agree with you & Michelle, you are so much more than just teaching reading, writing & math.

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  8. Lovely! A wonderful way to honor his legacy. :)

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  9. I see him and I see you! What a nice tribute that was painted so clearly for me.

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  10. What a good idea for a slice this week!

    "Sometimes, we give them wings."

    This line got me. It choked me up. There is something more in that line. Something about the cycle of inspiration your post suggests.

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    1. Thanks Christy. Good to hear from you. I think you've given a few wings of your own

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  11. I love this snapshot of Mr. Niceswanger. I can picture him, with his thermos of coffee and his cigarette, better than I can picture most of my own teachers in high school. And what a perfect tribute on National Teacher Appreciation Day.

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  12. You've done him proud Deb, he is smiling down on you! Your final line gave me goosebumps.

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  13. The words you expressed about your teacher immediately cast an image in my mind...now I wonder what he really looks like-if my image matches your words...it's so great that he had such an impact on you-it reminds me of thank you Mr. Falker...so appropo for Teacher Appreciation Week. The wings...fly!

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  14. I couldn't remember if I'd commented because I know I started several times & kept getting interrupted today. It's a wonderful tribute to this wonderful teacher. And you are the embodiment of that too, Deb. He should be blessed for paying it forward & now you are doing it too. Magical stuff!

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  15. What a fabulous tribute! You make me want to write a post for in honor of a teacher too. And the saying "can't never did anything" was one of my dad's favorites!

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  16. I too had Mr. Niceswanger, and had the exact same experience! One of the greats.

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  17. I live in Fort Dodge. My name is Martha Johnson McColley Kersbergen. I too had Mr. Nicewanger. Today I cleaned carpet for Mrs. Nicewanger and she showed me this blog... she is very interested in who you are... she was THRILLED with how you captured the spirit of Gail.
    Please instant message me through Facebook so I can share with Betty Nicewanger who you are...
    Thanks - Martha

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