When I first started working at my school 11 years ago there were two people who scared me. One was the director of the Child Study team who I later discovered was actually a big teddy bear. The other was this guy – John Howard. He was a legend in the halls. Stories followed him and made their way to up and coming students who might have him in English. He taught their parents. He even taught some of their grandparents.
“Did you hear about that teacher Mr. Howard?” they would ask each other. “I heard he throws actual babies against the wall during class. I heard he threw an actual kid out the window once. Did you hear about that time he got in a fist fight with another teacher? There was blood.”
Yet for some reason, they all wanted “Howard” at some point. I decided to investigate. I was lucky as part of my job was doing presentations in the junior English classrooms so about 3 times a year I spent all day with him and his classes. He threw things at me. He grunted. He talked over me and told the kids not to listen. He drew unflattering pictures of me. He blasted some unknown indy band on his radio.
Something was happening during those times though. The kids listened. He kept them engaged. They found out that it wasn’t a real baby he threw against the wall but a doll that he used to bring Hamlet to life. He actually only pretended to throw a student out the window. He did though, take a fake spider and put it on the end of a fishing pole and “fished” to the classroom on the floor under him to scare that teacher half to death. The fist fight with another teacher? Nah…it was more of a wrestling match. There was some blood though 🙂
Howard was a true Renaissance man. He ate up literature and in his way as only he could do, taught his students to do the same. They came out of his classes with open minds, amazing writing skills, and the ability to converse with adults in ways they had never even known before him.
His teaching was unconventional, and at times confusing but he knew what he was doing and those who were able to have him now know they were witness to something special. After a while, I figured out that Howard only threw things at you, grunted, drew pictures, etc. of you if he actually liked you. I think I got him to smile exactly 2 times during the years I got to work with him. I felt so special 🙂 We ended up having a mutual respect for each others antics. I started throwing things back, grunted good morning, called him Howie, and stole things from his classroom that I kept for 2 years and sent ransom notes for. It’s teacher and co-workers like John who make it worth it to get up in the morning. They give us something to look forward to.
We lost Howie last year. He had only been retired for less than a year when a health issue took him away from us. I still think I see him now and again or hear the thump of the baby against the wall that used to be his classroom. Not too many people appreciate my sense of humor like he did anymore and that’s ok because he was special. My cheeks don’t hurt anymore from laughing at his stories and my classroom presentations don’t end up with paperclips all over the floor anymore but I have kept what he taught me with me each day. He taught me to always be myself. To show my sarcastic side and to laugh with the kids. Be human! They like you much better when they can relate, and sometimes they actually listen to you to. So thank you Howie, for just being you. You were taken much to soon from us and I mourn for those who were never able to experience your intelligence and wit but there are enough of us in the building who are still aroudn to carry on your legacy.