My greatest teachers were not the ones in my classrooms. I had every intention of coming here today and talking about two people who shaped me at very critical times in my life – one was a little girl with a brain tumor, who I babysat for a decade; and the other was my high school janitor, who was a poetry lover, an opera fanatic, and my confidante. (That’s him on the far right.)
I was sitting in bed, starting to write about these two really amazing and influential people in my life, when I got an email. The title said, from the guy on your right. And it occurred to me that my favorite person (other than my kids) also happens to be a teacher. So, today, I thought I’d introduce you to Mr. Henderson.
Mr. H and I met when we were both 19 and sophomores at Carnegie Mellon. (Back then, it was Carnegie-Mellon with a dash in between.)
Me! Mr. H! (Also, Jon Walker, the drummer in his college band, The Turgid.)
When we first met, Mr. H was a set design major and into math, physics, Roman history, Einstein, Hegel, D&D, Bouguereau, The Stranglers and the Tom Robinson band. He wore fake, leopard spotted shoes, suspenders, and a derby hat. He dreamed of being a freelance designer, which we later discovered is like dreaming of being unemployed. Or worse, being employed but not paid.
Now, Mr. H is a kick-ass tenured professor (and freelance designer). To get a flavor of his teaching style, I’ll tell you one of his class rules. If you are his student and your cell phone goes off in class, you are counted as absent. If you answer the phone, you fail the course.
What skills does he bring to his students? Well, he paints…
He’ll even paint elaborate floors…
And he draws…
And he makes movies…
He teaches all of these things – and, of course, design, and how to interpret a script.
He also teaches a props class. For the final, his students have to create a meal from a different time period. These are baby mice (known as “pinkies”) dipped in honey and poppy seeds. Mr. Henderson always eats a sample of each person’s project because that’s part of the grade.
And he teaches stage make-up. For this class assignment, his students had to create their own prosthetic make-up. This one made herself into a swan.
This is all fine and good. But if you ask our kids, the coolest thing he does is make scars and wounds.
These are more class projects. His students had to come up with a specific disease or injury and do their own make-up to show it. I am not posting the photo of the student who made small pox out of Rice Krispies because I know some of you read my blog while you’re eating…
Once, when it was career day at the elementary school, Mr. H and I were invited in to talk about our jobs. I went first and talked about my love of reading and the process of writing and editing. And then I asked the children if they had questions.
“Did you write Harry Potter?”
“Did you write The Cat in the Hat?”
“No.” This was only funny maybe the first or second time and then it wore off.
Finally the teacher stepped in to help – “Mrs. Henderson, tell us what books you did write.”
Too embarrassed to tell the truth, that there was no book to buy, I answered cryptically, “They’re not really for children.” This forever after branded me as an assumed writer of erotica.
Then Mr. Henderson entered the classroom to discuss costuming actors for plays. He used Green-Hand as an example of an actor – creating fake bruises and scars on him to look like he’d been in a fight.
He was supposed to wash off the bruises but he went home on the bus all beat up. I asked him, “So, how do you think it went today?”
“Great,” he said, “Everyone in my class wants to be a costume designer.”
I’ll end with one my favorite stories concerning Mr. H. It was when his band was playing at a little tavern, and a whole bunch of his students showed up. And when they started to remove their coats, we saw that several of the girls were wearing little crop-tops that had I love [Mr. H] written on them.
I wish I had a camera that day because you should have seen his smile. And I just know when he’s a very old man with no teeth and he tells the same story over and over again, that’s going to be one of them.
Thank you to the super-lovely Paul Green for visiting this week. Thank you to everyone who played and commented. And thank you to everyone who linked to LitPark the past couple of weeks: Media Bistro, Comedy Central, Roy Kesey, Oronte Churm’s Inside Higher Education, Kimberly Wetherell’s She Shoots to Conquer (*new blog alert*), and Robin Slick. I appreciate those links!