Hello dear reader(s)!
I have told you about the greatest kindergarten teacher ever (Miss Maxine), I have told you about the greatest English teacher ever (Mr. Green), but I realize today that I have never told you about the greatest History teacher ever, Mr. Valline. I was offered the chance to sign up for AP History and turned it down just so I could be in Mr. Valline’s World History class. He was a hot-head, always in trouble with the Administration, the District, and parents. Most of the kids hated his class, said he was too tough, would call you names (he would), expected you to take notes on his lectures and hardly ever taught from the book. Thank goodness!
My brother had him, and he picked on my brother without mercy. But my brother loved him. He got good grades in his class and as he was getting in trouble from many of his other teachers, he was getting A’s in Mr. Valline’s class.
I got him first for World History. We’re sitting in the class and he comes in and tells us how it’s going to be in his class. Very upfront, very honest, and very loud. He talks about respecting what others have to say, even if we don’t agree with it. I learned to debate in his class, because he would assign our positions to us that were usually the exact opposite of what we thought. He taught like a college professor, from his brain. Taking notes was the most important thing in his class and even for people like me who would remember most of what someone told me, the notes definitely came in handy to study for the tests. Mr. Valline explained to us that he wanted covers on all of our text books, and not to buy the sticky laminate kind, but to use a cut up paper bag because they worked better and were cheaper. He said he’d show us how to make them if we didn’t know. He wanted our books covered because “they’ll probably get hurt with all the time they’ll sit in the bottom of our lockers”. He’d let us know the days we need to bring them, and there wouldn’t be many. He did, and there weren’t. The Administration did not like that. But those books were nothing more than propaganda, most “lessons” weren’t accurate, and he knew it.
That first day, to illustrate respect, he does the whole, “Look around at everyone. Is anyone really different from you?” Every teacher did this on the first day, the answer they were looking for was, “No”. But you could tell there was more to it with Mr. Valline. At least my friend Steve and I, could. We weren’t nodding, “No”, with the rest of the class. Then he picks out one of the white girls in my class and asks her about Jeff, the only black kid in that class. He asked her, “Is Jeff any different from you?” Steve and I are almost laughing as the whole class answers, “No.” in unison. Meanwhile, we’re nodding up and down in near tears from trying to keep quiet.
“Oh course Jeff is different from you. You’re a young woman, he’s a man, you’re white, he’s black.”
Steve and I bust out laughing.
“But! That makes neither of you superior to each other. You are going to have differences in here, and that’s okay. You will respect those differences in my classroom. Outside of these doors do whatever you want, but in here, you will respect your differences and you’re all inferior to me!”
I was going to like this class.
And I did, a lot, he taught as much as he could about the History of the world one year would allow. But the real fun started the next year when I had him for American History.
Mr. Valline was a Civil War buff. He knew anything and everything about the War. He took an entire quarter on it and we didn’t use our texts once. He could tell you how a battle was going to go another way if not for one tiny detail the same way John Madden could tell you the reason a play was blown up by noticing the direction of the toes on an offensive lineman. He actually prepared the lessons for the AP Teacher on this subject.
Despite him joking about me being a Satan Worshipper, (long story about one t-shirt I wore, and then him using a simple Cleveland Indians T-shirt I wore from my first MLB game to further make claims, (joking, but probably could’ve gotten him fired for it if I had complained)), his yelling and slamming stuff around (there is no doubt in my mind that if challenged he would have thrown me across the room), and the difficulty I occasionally had in keeping up with the speed of his lectures; I learned more about history in that class than in any other time in my life. He was the second of the two good teachers I had at high school, and it makes sense that he was also in trouble with the Administration a lot.
Teachers are handicapped by a lot of unnecessary rules, and bad testing that is now linked to funding and the teacher’s career instead of a measurement of a child’s progress and what the child has learned. They have curriculum designed to present a version of America that has never existed. It glosses over some of the most important struggles and figures in those struggles in order to downplay the significance standing up to those in power has had in changing things. The texts, basically tell you that things changed because of benevolent leaders and that the huge protests, demonstrations, and riots that motivated that change were a non-factor.
I hope that out there, there are still teachers like Mr. Green and Mr. Valline, who regularly get in trouble with their Administration and School Board in order to teach the truth and reality of the world we live in, in order to challenge young minds to think, and in order to fight back against this whitewashing and revisionist view that is teaching future generations to swallow what is fed to them.
Thanks Mr. Valline, for making me care more about the world instead of than Reality TV.