Friday, July 25, 2008

The Teachers: An Evaluation

What was amazing to me was how little context we had for evaluating teachers. So here are my thoughts on the notables. Leave your own nominations in Comments. And I agree it is better to point out the good ones and forget the others (on whose merits our opinions might diverge)...

Hall of Fame
Sal Costanza (Counselor). I think he recommended Occidental College to me, which I was very grateful for.

Dick Friss (English). I didn't take his class for some reason, but occasionally dropped in, earning the name "The Interloper". It was only after watching the Bill Moyers special on Joseph Campbell that I became more interested in mythology and wished that I had taken his class. Clint Stewart organized some softball games, and he played.

Tom Hall (English). It took until my senior year of HS to learn how to write. My previous English teachers didn't do much to help my writing, but Mr. Hall told me directly that my writing needed a lot of work...and we did work on it, frequently. It paid off in college and now I spend much of my time writing manuscripts. Plus, we got to watch "Apocalypse Now" in class, while reading "Heart of Darkness".

Tony Martinez (Spanish). I think everyone remembers this as one of their best classes. We didn't just learn Spanish, but the conversations we had IN Spanish were really interesting. I still have the cassette of all of the songs that we would listen to and try to transcribe the lyrics. Plus, he gave me the opportunity to do an exchange in Madrid for a month. It's very sad that he is no longer with us.

Ed Arbuckle (Math). He was notable not for the math (though he was a good teacher), but for his aphorisms and catch phrases. I compiled a list of them and a few years after graduation went back to visit NG and gave it to him. "Amato, you are screwing up like a soup sandwich!" "You'll be as happy as an oversexed goat!" "When they gave California an enema, they put the hose in Bakersfield." "Cosecant...sounds like a Norwegian swear word." Unfortunately I think I lost the file sometime back...He would sneak outside to smoke cigarettes between classes. One time he decided to quit, and became really surly. That was the week, I think, that Kristin Hicks got kicked out of the class. She was upset about the way that rounding was a bad day to make a comment!

John Gishe (Math). He taught us calculus, he taught us philosophy. He was a legend, and is still teaching.

Jim Wilcox (Physics). He was a strange guy, but I actually learned a lot in his class, and we did some fun experiments.

Santo Alioto (Spanish, History). Probably the most entertaining teacher I had (or a tie with Arbuckle and Spagle). The sophomore year history class was very lame, but the Junior Year class was really fun. We even watched a selection of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre"...."Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!" (But why did we watch that? I forget the context). He was always dropping obscure references in class.

Betty Spagle (Government). Another great teacher, with a good attitude. She signed my yearbook "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Plus, in her yearbook photo she is posing with a stuffed panda. [Correction: stuffed panda backpack]

Jeff Spoden (Social Studies). I never took a class from him, but he organized some great events. I think there was one on nuclear weapons/disarmament, and another involving some military vets, and the guy that got his legs run over by a train, during a protest.


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bcsanders said...
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Megan S. said...

I recall my Spanish teacher telling us she had a glass of wine during our class because it helped her. She had a paper cup that indeed had red wine in it every day. I can't recall her name, it's on the tip of mi lengua.

Ms. Pipo -- was there a better dance teacher ever? She is surely missed by many. She made gawky, nerdy left footed Meg feel like I could be a real dancer. I thank her for that confidence she gave me.

Coach Abbott and social dance! How could I teach my husband, my students and my children the cha cha, the tango, the foxtrot without his faithful requirement of social dance, and the competitions! I was sad to read of his passing:

Mr. De Rieux who taught us drama, and somehow always looked to be about 35 even at retirement. They have redone the Little Theater apparently, and titled it the Jack DeRieux Theater!

Ruby Bernstein -- Loved to teach us to write. I did enjoy her class as I recall. I was very sad looking back that she told me "Shakespeare is boring" and refused to teach it. It took me years to get over that and I'm now teaching Shakespeare to enthralled GATE and third grade students. You can see her here!

I don't recall my PE teacher for tennis, but I do know I spent more time in "Hell" than anyone. Not as bad as Mr. Moore who made us run a mile in 7th grade (I recall Tiffany W. trying to help me finish in under the ten minute mark by thinking of a lobster dinner and other wonderful food waiting at the end), but still a tad humiliating.

Mr. Smetzer- well I may be biased,(and YES I know who called me "Jerry's Kid") and he wasn't a Northgate teacher. However he taught many of you the value of science, the Cal Bears, critical thinking, binder organization and even (gasp) sex ed. He was an awesome teacher, is a wonderful father and is a fabulous grandfather. He and my mom celebrated 50 years this past November and he'll be here next week to babysit my girls while I'm teaching science! Every now and again he'll have a former student contact him to thank him. What more could a teacher ask for?

Megan S. said...

Oh yeah, I remember watching Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now!

One of my weirdest memories is watching Cool Hand Luke in the Little Theater. What was that all about? Whose idea was that?

And when we had a problem with racism (?) at NG we had Louis LeBeau from Hogan's Heroes come to speak to us.

And weren't we planning some Senior thing in the little theater when we were told of the space shuttle disaster?

Sorry, off topic. Carry on.

Megan S. said...

Did I say I was done? Sorry. Here's a pic of Mr. Smetzer, his wife, their grandchildren and grand nephews and nieces. He's the tall one in the middle.

Dr. Jeff said...

I thought the Space Shuttle event was FOR the Shuttle. They showed video of the explosion and had a discussion. I didn't think it was originally supposed to be another event, but I could be wrong.

Megan S. said...

Yes, I think we were supposed to be planning a senior something but we got that talk instead.

Matty said...

I suppose those deleted posts were comments on bad teachers?

So I suppose I shouldn't name any names, but there was a certain Spanish teacher who bore a striking resemblance to E.T. the Extra terrestrial who turned me off of the language until I started working with amigos. Mightn't she be the one with the paper cup of sange de vino?

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Matty said...

what was the background on the racism problem?

Matty said...

DeRieux was a special guy. I was thrilled he received that honor appellative honor.

Does anyone remember what Friss' vanity license plate read on that white rabbit?

Hint: it had to do with his favorite author.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it was a reference to Cat's Cradle, as I recall. I don't think it was ice-nine. Was it poolpah (shit storm!) ?

-Mike S.

matt c. said...

+1 for Sr. Martinez and teaching us silly Spanish songs I remember to this day. Friss was love/hate relationship, but he had my back when VP Arnold accused me of undermining the administration in a Sentinel article about the lack of heating in the school (ooh, such a rebel). Friss also encouraged us to do "alternative" ways of accomplishing writing assignments like songs and videos, which I did appreciate for getting me out of doing what I perceived as "real" work by doing something silly. (Mike Sela/Don D/John E can attest to that)
Nobody has mentioned Mr. Wood, who was a great guy, relaxed, and earned big style points by also being part owner of a bar.

Megan S. said...

I remember that we were called into the auditorium, and told that we had some sort of racism problem at Northgate. I also recall we all looked around at each other in wonder, as I don't think anything in our school was divided down race or class lines. I think perhaps it was about the Christmas tree in the foyer? A few months ago I was listening to Adam Carolla's show on the radio and he said the same thing guy spoke at his high school so perhaps that was the intro to all of his speeches?

Yes Matty, that's the Spanish teacher I'm thinking of. Gayle S or Tiffany W. can back me up, they were in class with me. Booze in the class. Sigh... As a third grade teacher I can only fantasize about that. Sadly, I value not only my tenure but my reputation as a competent educator.

One of my favorite math teachers was Bev Hodges -- our final day of Geometry was a spelling bee! I won by spelling 'schedule' properly. I thought she was a really good teacher and gave me hope after some of my previous math instructors.

Yes Mike, it was poolpah. Recently my oldest read Cat's Cradle for fun so we got to discuss it over a few family dinners. When I think of what we read (and they still read); Lord of the Flies, 1984, Heart of Darkness, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings -- anything to get us depressed. No wonder teens are so bummed out.

Sue said...

+! more for Sr. Martinez. Firm. Kind. Sly.

+1 more for Mr. Friss. Crazy. Funny. Cruel at times, but he helped me learn how to write.

Scholz said...

I will leave out his name, because this is a somewhat negative comment. My academic counselor did not know the admissions requirements for the UC System, did not think I could get into any college, and might want to think about alternative vocations.
To put this in a better light, maybe he was goading me into trying harder.
-Dr. Scholz Ph.D.

Dr. Jeff said...

Megan, here's a Simpson's quote relevant to the reading selection: "Making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel."

Steve S.: Reed is much cooler than Cal, he did you a favor! Please no hate mail from Cal alums (all 50 of you).

Matt C: regarding video assignments, who has a copy of the famous video with Clint Stewart as the Hero and Debbie DeVoe as the temptress? That should definitely be on YouTube.

And regarding teachers, I have all kinds of respect for anyone teaching K-12. In college, the students that are not motivated just don't go to class. If I had to teach six classes per day I would have more than a glass of wine to get me through...

Matty said...

Yes, it was "poolpah" appropiate, all things considered.

Meg, not all was dispiriting. Don't forget "Earth Abides" (or was that only my class?) All the Kings Men, The Sun Also Rises, My Antonia, Gatsby, A Separate Peace, (OK bad example)1984, oh and of course....OUR TOWN.

Friss had us read The Zoo Story, The Sandbox, and The American Dream, but alas, not Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe.

Luuuz phone home!

Elizabeth said...

+1 for Mrs. Hackett! She was always a very nurturing, encouraging, and supportive teacher!

P.S. Note to Steve Scholz: What an odd coincidence. My academic counselor also suggested you would probably not be able to get into any college ;-)

Greg said...
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Anonymous said...

Tony Martinez was the best - I am sadden by his death. Eres Tu forever!!!