When I was going to High School I had the good fortune to have Mr. Fisher for Grade11 History. The class was “People and Politics”. It was a history of the 20thCentury, the good and the bad. Mr. Fisher used to be a boxer, and he moved around his classroom like a boxer dances around his ring. I had heard stories about Mr. Fisher and his history class. I heard that during his description of Vimy Ridge he got up on his desk and rat-a-tat-tatted an imagined machine gun at the students in their desks. I heard that Mr. Fisher waved around a blue handkerchief. I was curious to say the least. During our first week, Mr. Fisher taught us the basics of how he wanted assignments handed in for his class. We were to underline the date, title and our name with a red pen, and we were to use a ruler. Our writing was to be legible, or assignments would be handed back. I saw a few people get papers handed back on the basis of poor pen manship. Mr. Fisher did not fool around. During our study of World War One, Mr. Fisher made the trenches imaginable for us. We were stunned, and horrified by what we learned. He explained the tragedies of a soldier’s suffering with tears streaming down his face, his big blue handkerchief always at the ready. We were learning, and learning well. There was a boy named Dennis who sat in front of me in Mr. Fisher’s neatly ordered rows. Dennis was a trouble maker. Dennis often had his assignments handed back to him. Dennis was often late for class. In Mr. Fisher’s world, lateness was not acceptable. One day, in the middle of term, Dennis came in late, and sat down after tossing his assignment onto Mr. Fisher’s desk. Mr. Fisher had reached his boiling point. He stood up, pushed back his chair, grabbed Dennis’ paper, ripped it in half and threw it into the garbage can. He rushed over to Dennis’ desk, pointed his finger in his face and began a two minute tirade, berating Dennis from everything to his tardiness, to his messy hair. The whole class was uncomfortable. The longer the tirade continued, the quieter the room got. And Dennis never said a thing. He didn’t even look up at Mr. Fisher. Suddenly he stopped, patted Dennis on the shoulder, and said “Thank you Dennis.” Then Mr. Fisher turned his eyes on all of us. “I stood here for two minutes completely humiliating this boy in front of you all, and not one of you said anything. You all knew I was out of line, and had no right to be saying those things to Dennis, yet nobody tried to stop me. Why? Because I am a teacher, a figure of authority? Because you were afraid?” Not one of us could meet his gaze, so he continued, “Dennis was expecting this today, because I asked him to come in late, throw his homework on my desk and asked his permission to rant at him like a lunatic for a couple of minutes.” All of us looked up at Mr. Fisher and Dennis mouths agape. “Today,” he said, “we begin our study of the Holocaust, and the Second World War, and how it all got started.”
There are not many things that I remember about Grade eleven. I don’t remember how to do polynomial equations anymore, and I’m not sure how to conjugate the past participle of a female pronoun in French, but as long as I live, I will never forget that morning in Mr. Fisher’s class. Yes, he was eccentric, and yes, he did get up on his desk and reenact gun battles from the First World War. But he also celebrated with us when Nelson Mandela was let out of prison, and wept as he read the article detailing Mandela’s first hours of freedom. He used his blue handkerchief to blow his nose, mop his brow, and always to wipe his tears. Mr. Fisher taught us to be accountable, to be empathetic, and not to be afraid to stand up when we knew something wasn’t right. In the four months that I had him as a teacher, I grew to love him like a father. I can only hope that more children have a Mr.Fisher in their lives.
That was from Irene Wood of Edmonton, Alberta courtesy of the Vinyl Cafe on CBC FM