Valentine To My Most Unforgettable Teacher: Mr. Canfield
A Run-In With Destiny
Everyone has an unforgettable teacher. Mine was Mr. Canfield at P.S. #26 in Paterson, NJ. On the last day of fourth grade, I literally bumped into his belt line while running down the hallway. I remember keeping my eyes lowered, afraid to look up because I knew that there was only one person this tall in the whole building- Mr. Canfield, the strictest, meanest teacher at P.S 26, and the one who was going to be my 5th grade teacher in the fall.
"Hey kid, pay attention to where you're going!" His booming voice sent tremors through my body as he glared down at me, waiting for an apology.
"Sorry, Sir." I mumbled, feeling the color rise to my cheeks.
"And stop running. If this wasn't the last day of school I'd have you marching up and down the hallway till you learned to walk properly." It was no idle threat. He was infamous for making his students march up and down the halls until they could march single file in perfect silence. He was equally infamous for breaking wooden pointers over desks if the students weren't paying attention to the lesson. (Teachers weren't allowed to administer corporal punishment but just the thought of that cracking pointer was enough to make me flinch).
It was also rumored that Mr. Canfield rarely gave out "A's" and I was afraid he'd ruin my straight "A" academic record. (Yeah, I'll admit it, I was a brainy, nerdy kid. A pathetic good child who strove to be the teacher's pet- and I feared that would be impossible next year, given what I perceived as Mr. Canfield's gruff personality.)
But the scariest rumor of all was that he had "epileptic fits" that sometimes made him fall to the floor and caused his mouth to foam up like a rabid animal. It sounded awful and I was afraid to witness such a thing.
Throughout the summer I begged my mother to get me transferred to another class but she refused and told me to hold off judging him until I'd actually been in his class for a few weeks and could form my own opinions. She also explained that epilepsy wasn't anything to fear and that there were medications that usually prevented seizures.
Mr. Canfield Turns Out to be My Greatest Teacher
Fortunately, Mom turned out to be right and by the end of 5th grade Mr. Canfield had become one of the most influential adults in my life and my greatest teacher.
The first lesson he taught me was that learning had nothing to do with getting good grades- it was about discovering the wonders of science and nature and loving the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, not external rewards.
His classroom was an awesome place filled with terrariums, pet rodents so we could learn about procreation, and scientific experiments in varying degrees of progress. Students were encouraged to become peer mentors and help each other with difficult projects which fostered cooperation in place of competition.
By the end of the year he had become a family friend which meant that he continued to have a strong influence in my life for more than a decade.
Lessons In Faith And Love
When he learned that my parents weren't taking me to church he asked for and received permission to take me to his own church and bought me a bible. We'd arrive at church early every Sunday and have lively discussions about verses he assigned to me each week. The cool part was that he always wanted to hear my opinion on what the verse meant instead of "preaching" at me. I still have the 3 by 5 card with I Corinthians Chapter 13 written in his handwriting and I believe it's the best definition of love, especially where it says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Unfortunately, I would learn the full meaning of those words all too soon. When I was 16 I fell in love with a boy who had cancer. At the end of our second year together my boyfriend died.
Mr. Canfield came to the funeral parlor and sat quietly in the back of the room for several hours watching me from afar, lending support by his unobtrusive presence. The next time we spoke in private he said, "You are a full grown woman now, because the love you had with your boyfriend was mature beyond your years. It showed full commitment in sickness and health, and I'm so sorry for your loss but also proud of the way you've handled yourself throughout all that the two of you went through together."
It meant a lot that he acknowledged the depth of my loss and wasn't saying platitudes like you're young and will get over it. He encouraged me to move forward and focus on my college studies so that I could complete my nursing degree and help others.
Eulogy For A Great Teacher
When I was 22, Mr. Canfield, who was 39, had an epileptic seizure while taking a shower and drowned in his own bathtub. Though I had always known he suffered from epilepsy, I had never actually witnessed him having a seizure and his death was a terrible shock and great loss to myself and all the future students who would never get to have him as their teacher.
He had never married or had children of his own which was, I suspect, why he had taken me under his wing and into his heart. My own father was a workaholic who had rarely spent time with me while I was growing up so Mr. Canfield filled a void that was in my life and I filled a void that was in his.
Winston Churchill once said, "You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give."
Mr. Canfield earned his living as a teacher but gave his life to his students, molding their characters, shaping their values and instilling a love of learning. If he were still alive today I'd send him a Valentine filled with love and gratitude, letting him know exactly what he meant to me. Instead, I pass this Valentine onto you, dear reader, hoping it will inspire you to track down your favorite teacher this Valentine's Day and send a special card or email letting them know exactly what they meant to you.
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