January 2014 Volume 11

Unforgettable Gems From My High School Teachers

Dr. Cedric Lazarus
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During my years at KC there were many occasions when the academic discourse was interrupted, or added to, by an unforgettable gem from a teacher. As students, we had our moments too, but most of what we uttered could not be considered gems, neither were they unforgettable.

Here I take the reader back in time to the 1970s, to a time when many of our teachers seemed larger than life and full of colourful lyrics, words of wisdom and hilarity. For me, it all started in second form at Melbourne when one hot afternoon vice-principal Mr. Carlton Bruce went from classroom to classroom with one seemingly simple question. "Who were the boys playing football five minutes after the bell had gone and who shouted 'Bruce a come, Bruce a come!' when I walked onto the field?"

He got no response to what was to him a simple question, and so, starting with my class, which was at one end of the second form block, he caned over 200 boys that fateful afternoon. We all agreed back then that he had real stamina. I think that he used about five different canes that afternoon on our derrieres. Thus was born the line, 'Bruce a come! Bruce a come!' that we all remember to this day.

A year later, we were in third form at North Street where principal Douglas Forest was in the final year of his long reign. It was there that he saw a group of about five of us rushing to the canteen for lunch and wondered why one boy, the sixth, was lagging behind as if he did not care much about lunch or anything else for that matter. Mr. Forrest fell in step beside the lad and said, "Son, if you walk any slower you might stop!"

One of the most memorable gems came from our fifth form biology teacher, the irreverent Mr. Vin McKie, who later went on to become principal at Priory. Having arranged an after-school biology revision class just before the GCE exams, he was shocked that about four of us chose to be absent from the class. As one of the absent four, I was told that the dialogue in the classroom went something like this: Mr. McKie to the class, "Why are four boys absent, Lazarus included?" Unlike Mr. Bruce's question three years earlier, one student inexplicably took it upon himself to provide an answer to the posed question. "They are at BK (Bible Knowledge) class sir," he replied.

It so happened that at the start of the term arrangements had been made for Rev. Weevil Gordon to hold after- school BK classes for about twenty of us in fifth form who did not have BK on our timetable but who had signed up to do it in the GCE exam. Unfortunately, the BK class clashed with Mr. McKie's one-off extra lessons class that week. "BK!" bellowed Mr. McKie sarcastically. "Are they saying that they would rather learn BK than biology?" When he confronted us about it a week later we told him that he had nothing to worry about as we were all going to pass his biology with flying colours and that we were doing BK to make up numbers. He still was not impressed. "BK", he muttered as he walked away shaking his head in disbelief and amazement.

One of the most brilliant teachers we had was mathematics teacher, Joyce Baxter. She was a Jamaican scholar on leaving Wolmer's and had taught mathematics at many schools throughout the island, including St Andrew High School, Titchfield and St Hilda's where she had been headmistress. She had several degrees in mathematics from the University of London, Columbia University and State University of New York and was such an expert in modern mathematics and the teaching of mathematics that for many years she taught the Ministry of Education's summer courses for high school teachers of the subject.

We were in awe of this brilliant but unassuming lady who taught us maths from second to fifth form. She had two long stints at KC and even returned to teach maths at the College after her retirement in the 1980s. While we were in fifth form we heard that she had two sisters, both teachers at other high schools and that they were also, like her, academically brilliant. One day one of my classmates gathered the nerve to ask her to explain her exceptional brilliance and that of her sisters. This was her stoic gem of a reply: "In our days there was no television, only one radio station, and we were not allowed to speak to boys like you!" We were sure that she meant you in the plural sense of the word.

Another brilliant maths teacher was the legendary Q.C. Edwards who was the head of the mathematics department and taught us the subject in sixth form. 'QC', as he was affectionately called, had a deep bass voice and was one of the giants on campus and was held in great esteem by boys and teachers alike. Such was his teaching reputation that boys transferred from other schools to KC's sixth form just to be taught A' level maths by this legendary teacher. And he had memorable one-liners – gems all.

One afternoon after the lunch break had ended a boy walked into the lower sixth maths class while still munching his bun and cheese. 'QC' turned around from the blackboard and saw the boy in the corner munching away at his lunch. This is what he said to the boy in that bass voice of his, "The canteen was made for eating the class-room was made for teaching, please leave!" The class erupted at this dramatic put down of the student which was delivered in a rather deadpan tone by the maths teacher.

A few weeks later another chap was heard chatting away while 'QC' was busy trying to get an important mathematical point across to the rest of us. He glared at the boy for about ten seconds (by which time he had searched for and found the chap's name in his memory), called out his full name in his bass voice, and said, "How much was it that you got in the last maths test again? Wasn't it 42 percent?" From that day on that boy never uttered another word in maths class.

But the real gem from 'QC' was uttered, not as one would expect in the classroom, but from his car at the intersection of South Camp Road and North Street. Eyewitnesses (KC boys of course) reported that one afternoon our maths teacher's car was stopped by a young police officer who had reason to believe that the driver had disobeyed the red light at the intersection. As the officer got off his motorcycle and approached the car, several KC boys who were at the nearby bus-stop simultaneously converged on the car no doubt to see, and hear, how the maths teacher would handle the cop, or how the cop would handle the maths teacher.

Reports from the eyewitnesses are that before the police officer could open his mouth, 'QC' said to him in that deep bass voice of his, "Officer, there is no necessity to create a scene. " No necessity indeed and certainly not in front of a large group of inquisitive KC boys who would spread news of the confrontation and the scene all over the school. The cop relented, probably more in shock of the bravura of the teacher than in anything else and 'QC' drove off much to the disappointment of the eyewitnesses.

The final gem was told to me by boys of a previous era who were taught by the popular Bajan teacher Mr. J.A. Crick who after twenty years at KC left in 1966 to become the principal at Cornwall College. Mr. Crick is still held in high esteem by students whom he taught at both KC and Cornwall and this gem tells why. One afternoon a small group of boys, having served their detention, persuaded Mr. Crick at around 3:30 pm to take them to the National Stadium where the KC Manning Cup team was playing an important football game. As Mr. Chick's old car (a model not known for its speed) sputtered up South Camp Road the boys started to fear that they would miss not only the entire first half of the game but the start of the second half as well. They pressured and begged him to drive faster to which Mr. Crick retorted, "Boys, can't you see that we are flying!"

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