‘I don’t want to be in his class,’ I said indignantly. ‘He’s too sporty, and I have asthma.’ I did have asthma but that was really just a convenient excuse. I didn’t want to be in the class run by the very tall male teacher. He looked older and meaner than the other teachers, and had a track record of doing sport, something that I hated because I wasn’t very good at any sport and I was always left with a headache after becoming too hot. My parents took me to the principal, who explained in no uncertain terms that Mr Williams, while being very passionate about sport would only host the required physical activity sessions and wouldn’t make me engage in any unnecessary sport.
I started Grade Seven like any other year, excited but nervous. This year I was particularly nervous because I didn’t have my way. I wasn’t moved to the nice lady teacher’s class down the path, I was kept with the only male Grade Seven teacher. Over the course of the year I learned that not only was the principal right, I was never expected to play sports just for the sake of it, I also had the best teacher of any Grade Seven class. Being in Mr Williams’ class was like being on the set of ‘Dead Poet’s Society.’ We didn’t stand on the desks and say ‘O Captain, My Captain,’ but we did learn some amazing lessons. I remember entering the classroom one day with 29 other children, though we thought of ourselves as sophisticated teenagers, only to find Mr Williams wasn’t there. He was always there so it felt strange sitting down to our desks without the giant of a man standing at the front of the class, socks pulled up to his knees, hair styled neatly. They usually sent a substitute teacher, but there was no one to be seen. We started chatting, then became louder. A group decided to decorate the white board with flowers and slogans. Some kids did their homework, others braided hair.
We were all shocked when Mr Williams burst through the door and boomed over us ‘Why are you making such a din?’ Most of the children who weren’t used to be yelled at scuttled back to their desks and sat, stunned, waiting for direction. One boy simply stood on the spot and said, with the appropriate amount of teenage attitude, ‘What’s a din?’. Everyone snickered. We’d all been equally confused by the word but most of us were smart enough not to ask questions when our teacher was clearly angry. Mr Williams calmed the class by stalking to the front of the room. ‘A din is a lot of noise, Michael, sit down,’ and Michael did. It wasn’t the same day we learned about the word ‘get’, but it was equally as memorable.
I sat in the back row, as a reward with my friends because we were always good students, quiet, dedicated and tried to work diligently. ‘There’s no reason to use the word ‘get’.’ Mr Williams said as he wrote it very neatly on the white board, along with all the other words similar to ‘get’ like ‘got’, ‘gotten’, and ‘getting’. I was confused. I could think of plenty great reasons to use the word ‘get’. ‘I get bored, I got too hot, I’m getting hungry, get me out of here, I hadn’t gotten a piece of cake for lunch.’
‘There are always better words to use instead of ‘get”, he said. It was one of those lessons that was not really a lesson. I mean, it wasn’t in the book that the school insisted he taught from, which is why his class resembled ‘Dead Poet’s Society’. He instilled in us much more than the curriculum demanded. He gave out jelly beans for correct spelling words and made us learn what ‘exponential’ meant when he told us we’d receive more and more jelly beans the more consistently we produced correct spelling words. As I walked back to my desk one day with over 40 jelly beans, I remember the word ‘exponential’ and thought it was quite a good one. I could even spell it! ”Get’ can be replaced by ‘received’ if you’re describing something someone gave to you. ‘Got’ can be replaced by ‘have’, for example ‘I’ve got a tummy ache’ can simply be replaced with ‘I have a tummy ache’. ‘Get and it’s friends are meaningless, useless words.’ If a certain word can be replaced by any other word we needn’t use it, ‘get’ is a prime example.
It’s been 17 years since I saw Mr Williams, but his lessons have stayed with me. He taught me the value of trying something before making a judgment, that sport (in moderation) isn’t so bad, and to avoid ‘get’ at all costs. Not a bad grade 7 experience afterall.