A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Friday, December 26, 2008

In the seven years that I taught high school in Mexico City I had a first-day-of-class technique that served we well. It was rapidly evident which of my students would challenge me for authority. I made it a point of asking them something I knew they would not know. In most cases this would settle them down for the duration of the term. I believed that too much personal intimacy with students was bad so I always called them Mr. or Miss. I never had discipline problems. I am not sure I would use that technique now if I had to teach again. It seems that my method involved humiliation. It is only today that I finally thought about it and how as boy I was part of a class that humiliated a kind teacher and pushed him into a nervous breakdown. He was much too kind to retaliate. We should have felt ashamed.

In school while I was not always a model student I always behaved. But in my third year (grade 11) 1959, 1960, at St. Edward's High School in Austin I was not a good boy. In the first and second years (grade 9 and 10) we slept in huge dorms with Gothic celings. We had bunk beds so that the dorms could accomodate 50 of us. There was a separate room within the dorm were our prefect lived. In that 11th grade we had the privilege of living in a room for four with a couple of bunk beds. That grade 11 my roommates were John Arnold, Melvin Medina and Mac Letscher (his parents lived in Australia). That's the order of the pictures here. I was the smallest of the four. John Arnold made it a point to be my bodyguard. He was a member of the football team so few ever tried to bully me. The 11th grade was on one whole floor and one of the rooms was occupied by our prefect, Brother Cyriac Haden CSC who was a soft spoken and very pleasant man. He also taught us chemistry.

As a teacher and as a prefect we immediately noticed in Brother Cyriac a weakness in imposing discipline. We made it our goal all that year to push him to his limits. In his class (which was right after lunch) I would casually walk in with an unfinished apple or cherry pie on a plate and finish it in class. I told Brother Cyriac that if I ate slowly for a good digestion I simply did not have enough time to finish lunch in the time we were given. I was ejected several times (Brother Cyriac rarely punished us at all) and I was finally barred that year from being a member of the elite and nerdish National Honour Society. We had several of those little cardboard cylinders that when inverted would make the sound of a cat or a cow. We would make these sounds in class and pass the devices around under our desks. Brother Cyriac would try to find the offender. He could never find it as we were too quick. He would then shout and most often say the word we all wanted to hear (the first time I ever heard the word was in his class), "Stop the hullabaloo!" We would all then roar with laughter.

Every morning a huge bell would sound to get us out of bed and ready us for breakfast. Our most important personal mandate was to spend the most time in bed. Duck cuts were fashionable and many of us would spend valuable sleeping time getting the duck cut ready. We four realized this was silly so we all got a flat top haircut. We would face our room sink mirror, put on a bit of crew cut goo ( it think it was called Top Cut) and we would rapidly brush it to perfection in mere seconds.

It was a couple of months into that first semester that the four of us decided to make Brother Cyriac loose his cool. We developed all kinds of stuff to do a slow job of it. We would alternate beds so that Brother Cyriac would not know who was sleeping in which bed when he would check us out at night to make sure we were all in for the night. On other days we would make the four bunks become single beds. One day we put all four beds on top of each other (the ceilings were that high) so that when Brother Cyriac opened the door of our room a whole section of it was empty. Another time we made the room look like a complete mess. When Brother Cyriac poked his head into the room he went ballistic. That's Mac Letscher in his crew cut in our messy room, below.

Then we decided to dye or hair a striking light blue. We kept on with our campaign and I am sad to say that Brother Cyriac disappeared one day and we never saw him again. My guess is that we drove this man into a nervous breakdown. Even then we felt a bit guilty of our deed.

But, today, I reflect on this I as prepare myself to attend and look forward to a high school reunion in Austin in June. I am deeply ashamed at our lack of kindness to a man who always treated us fairly and like the good Christian he was he just turned his other cheek.

Wherever you are, Brother Cyriac I apologize for myself and for my roommates. We may have meant all we did to you. We simply did not know any better.


Another regret from Lee H. Lytton Class of 61

I too had many moments of guilt about the way we treated the poor man. He died long ago and is buried along with Bro. Francis, Bro. Hubert, and a couple of others in the cemetery at the end of Woodward at IH-35. Over the years, I've occasionally visited their graves, and in the case of Bro. Cyriac, did my best to apologize to him for being a major asshole.


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