When I was a teenager, my father was stationed in the UK at RAF Lakenheath. We moved into a very old house in an even older village not too far from the base, the kind of place where the the fields went on forever, and the muddy marshland of the Fens sank the slackers. Everyone there (apart from the other teenagers) was neighborly and curious about the Yanks who’d taken up residence centrally. Most of the other military families there were settled in the more modern (as in post-WWII), semi-detached houses on the outskirts of the village. There weren’t a lot of us there though. Anyway, it wasn’t long before we met the local staple of the village, Mr. Houghton. He and his brother were well-known, and not just as local color. They’d also discovered the Isleham Hoard in the late 1950’s, a vast collection of bronze pieces — one of the largest, actually — dating from the Bronze Age. Mr. H. would grow to be a virtual member of the family, a surrogate grandfather of sorts, bringing over bags and bushels of tubers and root veg, staying for a cuppa and a chat whenever he could. There would be times when he’d just talk and talk and talk, and I’d wished for a translator because his regional dialect was often hard to comprehend. That said though, of the words and phrases I actually understood, some of them were damned funny and perfectly apt for whatever the situation called for.
My favorite colloquialism of his was (and still is) “Him what know all.” I take it to mean a know-it-all, specifically so, and whoever “him” is, “him” believes himself to be simply It.
This piece isn’t about Mr. Houghton, though it certainly could’ve been. He was truly a grand teacher of the area in which we lived, even if he did tend to prattle on for a bit longer than we could bear (we aren’t a family of talkers, but we are all fairly well-versed in the lost art of gracious civility).
No, this is about a Mr. Him What Know All (HWKA), quite possibly the most godawful (and, I suppose in retrospect, the greatest) teacher I ever had. He was my senior year English teacher, and if it hadn’t been for the man’s egomania, the man’s sleaziness, the man’s sheer dreadfulness, I probably wouldn’t be in the teaching profession. I’m not kidding: one of the reasons why I became a teacher is because I want to undo the damage brought on by total prats like Mr. HWKA.
Mr. HWKA thought himself the greatest performer the entirety of the DoDDS system had possibly ever encountered. In class, he would often compare his singing, his “raw talent,” to his idol’s, Billy Joel’s.
Mr. HWKA also blatantly played favorites. While tempting (and very human), this is still a big, fat no-no in the profession. Teachers must be neutral in their assessment, even as subjective as some of our grading might seem. Some of us even go so far as to grade “blindly” (no student name, only the ID number in the heading) so that we don’t grow tempted to look at our gradebooks for a name and match it with a personality type. Mr. HWKA, however, always presented himself a buddy to anyone considered “popular.” He’d sit and eat with the jocks, usually wrestlers, at the base snack bar. He’d cast his favorite female student (we’ll get to that in a bit) in the utterly masterful (::eyeroll::) comedy he’d write for one of the talent competitions.
He gave out A’s like candy to his fanbase, and he’d stick it to those who dared cross him. During the year I unfortunately had him as a teacher, I watched my grade plummet from an A straight down to a D with no adequate explanation/assessment to support either grade. The feedback I received from him was brief and much too personal rather than objective and helpful. This would be typical though, and I loathed him for it.
Speaking of favoritism, Mr. HWKA also had an obvious thing for certain teenaged girls. His skeevy behavior was never more apparent during the yearly speech and drama festival and its competition rehearsals. There were several girls he’d grown especially fond of, one in particular who seemed moulded to be his protege. I’m glad she’s grown into the amazing woman she is now — successful, interesting, compassionate, and proud. I sure as shit don’t credit Mr. HWKA for that though.
I remember once, a friend of mine — a fellow competitor and drama class regular — wound up in the ER and had subsequent surgery. That evening, my father revealed this all to me (he was her presiding physician at the base hospital) and told me he’d had to “remove” a visitor she’d had who’d disobeyed hospital policy. Of course, it had been Mr. HWKA. The man had stopped by my friend’s room and had shut the door, something one never does when visiting patients in a hospital.
The next day, Mr. HWKA cornered me, demanding to know why my father reprimanded him and had him leave the hospital, as if it would make much difference to know from me, the student who could see through his creepazoid facade.
It’s no coincidence that, afterwards, that was when my grade took a nosedive in his class.
The rumor is Mr. HWKA was let go from his teaching position at that school. I don’t know if it’s true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. He’s now a workplace motivational speaker, and I find that ickily appropriate as it’s the only way the man could find an audience, I’m sure, and get paid for it.
Decades later, I saw he’d befriended a lot of my old classmates on Facebook. Many of them are still charmed, still smitten by him, and I don’t understand why at all. I don’t think I ever will.
There are still a couple of us out there though, thank goodness, who can see clearly through him.
(The old stomping grounds.)
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Teacher’s Pet.”