I recently communicated with my favorite teacher in the world, Mr. Hobson. I call him Mr. Hobson because he was my fifth grade teacher, and there is no way in the world I could ever dream of calling him by his first name. Mr. Hobson is a mythic figure in my household and family: the perfect teacher that both my sister and myself were lucky enough to have.
Mr. Hobson was very important to me for one reason: he made me feel like I was the most special and smartest kid in the classroom. I had just come off a really bad year in fourth grade, where my teacher, Mrs Foote-- yes that was her name and yes, that was the appropriate name-- constantly harped on me for not paying attention, not following directions, "living in my own world" (what does that mean anyway?), and spending an abnormal amount of time with my nose buried in a book. I had just started earning what would be years of low grades in the public schools, and while I knew I was not stupid, I was starting to get the idea that maybe I was not completely "normal" and I was going to have a difficult road ahead of me paved with Mrs. Foote types. Above is a recent picture of Mr. Hobson with students in Japan.
On top of this, I was a very shy kid. Now, in this wonderful life I live now, my dear friends have no way of imagining me as shy, but I was. Painfully so. I was very sensitive and lacked coping skills, other than to be hyper-aware of everything happening around me and totally self-conscious. Mr. Hobson thought I was great just the way I was. He also thought it was great I read so much, and he was amused by my obsession and incessant chatter about gymnastics, the only thing that could pull me away from my books. He told me recently his most vivid memory of me is sitting in the splits during recess, while reading a book. He let me read as much as I wanted throughout the day, skip ahead on material that bored me, and express myself during class, which usually came in the form of hysterical giggles. My shyness, which I didn't really start getting over until my late teens, started cracking during Mr. Hobson's class, and it began with these giggles that I could not contain, usually in the middle of his lessons.
Mr. Hobson once busted me cheating during a spelling test. I never bothered with any kind of studying, ever. Anything else I didn't give a damn about, but in spelling I wanted the perfect "100". I was a champion speller-- that reading thing-- and words were the only thing I never had a problem with. In the written form, that is. To me, cheating in school wasn't a big deal. I viewed school as jail time, and who cared how one got through it? The important thing was to graduate high school so you could get released and have a life. Mr. Hobson was utterly flummoxed that a child as smart, as bright as myself could ever cheat. He wasn't angry with me. If he yelled at me I would have cried and said I was sorry and then gone on to do the exact same thing during the next test. But his questioning me, not with anger, but with curiosity, was a challenging experience for me. Mr. Hobson said, "What kind of grade you get doesn't matter, it's what you are learning that matters. All you are doing is cheating yourself." That, of course, is the philosophy of a brilliant teacher. Suddenly, the cliched expression came to life for me and I understood what he was saying, actually felt ashamed for cheating and not just ashamed for getting caught. I also understood the "100" didn't really mean much when school held no significance to me.
Fifth grade was the first time in my life when I enjoyed school, looked forward to Mondays so I could see my beloved Mr. Hobson, and started figuring out what was important to me. While school rarely trumped gymnastics, I started placing value on what was in my mind and realizing not everyone could appreciate me or my outlook, but I was worthy in the larger world outside of my home.
When I was ten years old all I wanted in life was to be on the 1984 Olympic gymnastics team, but Mr. Hobson thought I was going to be a writer. I cracked my knee before I could manage the Olympics, and I'm obviously working on the writing, but I still adore Mr. Hobson. I do not think it is a coincidence that all my closest friends today are artists, teachers, or both. And I have a couple of lawyers in there too, gotta have someone watching my back!