Written in response to the question: “Tell me about the teachers that changed you life” for a forum I’m on:
Mr Scales, my Sixth form English teacher. Absurdly intelligent, and mad as a loon. I could tell ridiculous stories about this man at some length. The one about him performing his music live on a Saturday morning kids TV show, and being cut away from rather hastily for being to violent, for example.
But with specific regard to his impact on me:
I used to represent my school at debating and public speaking, which Mr Scales was also responsible for. I was pretty good at it. Achieved some of the highest scores in the history of the school.
There was a tradition at my school that if you represented the school in public speaking, you would save the headmaster some work and do your speech at the following assembly. Not only was I the first student ever not to do this, I was denied the honour twice.
In my lower sixth year, Mr Scales came to me and said that there was a local competition being put on at which he would like me to speak. It was quite a posh do (there would be dinner, and everything), and I was a contrary sod, so I chose to do a speech on “Why Christianity is Crap”.
He didn’t bat an eye. Said that would be fine.
So I get to the venue, dressed in my formalwear. It’s full of little old ladies. There’s a painting of the last supper on one wall, a crucifix on the other. The audience is composed of hatched-faced little old ladies in tweed and pearls, and their frightened-looking husbands. Suddenly, I know I’m not going to win. Mr Scales has known this for a while, and said nothing.
The following year, he comes back to me, grinning, and asks if I want to enter the same competition again. The food was good, so I agreed, but added that I had no idea what to do for a speech.
He suggested “Why Satanism is great.” And because we both knew I had no chance of winning, he made some other suggestions, basically along the lines of “ignore the rules, forget about speaking to time or the other requirements, just have a laugh”.
My high school english teacher encouraged me to pace about the stage at a formal event, dressed in black leather, chainsmoking like a maniac, ranting and gesticulating, quoting liberally from Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, and basically keep a room full of little old ladies rooted to their seats with horror and disapproval for twenty minutes.
I learned valuable lessons from that.