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."
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.