I loved my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Finney. He sported a shaved head and many colorful tattoos. The ones on his fingers read GOOD LOVE. His arms and legs were adorned with tattoos too, which he allowed his young students to view once! A veteran of the armed forces, he ran his classroom strictly. His eraser found uses for things other than erasing and his chalk also proved multi purposeful, sometimes as flying missiles aimed at students opting to not attend his lessons.
But Mr. Finney was the kind of teacher, a student is lucky to have….the brand of teacher that is capable of making a lasting impact on someone…even if that someone fails to realize it until adulthood. I loved Mr. Finney not just because he took charge of the roller skates, or because he kept a woodworking bench in his classroom. My fondness for him didn't necessarily arise from his allowing us to have mini flea markets on Fridays, or because we enjoyed a couch in our classroom. I loved Mr. Finney because he READ to us. Every day, he read to us and that special time, after lunch recess, proved the best part of my day. During those twenty minutes, I could rest my head on my desk, and self-indulgently, listen to: Where the Red Fern Grows...Tuck Everlasting...Stuart Little…From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (which was one of my very favorites!)...The Rats of Nimh...even some of Edgar Allen Poe's short stories. The Pit and the Pendulum in fourth grade! I still wonder if that one was appropriate fourth grade reading material, but I definitely loved hearing that story!
Mr. Finney was a great teacher for many reasons…but perhaps most significantly, because he understood the importance of exposing children to quality literature. He understood the importance of reading to children. Mr. Finney helped instill in me a love of books, a love of reading, a love of language…and a deep appreciation for a good story. That framed my childhood, as well as my adulthood. Personally and professionally, literature created a rock solid foundation.