East encompassed kindergarten through senior high school. The elementary, East Elementary School, had the right half of the building while the high schools, junior and senior collectively referred to as East High School, had the left. I started there with kindergarten and attended for twelve years but at the end of my eleventh grade it was clear that something had to change. My grades were dismal and only with summer school was I advanced to the twelfth.
Tech High, several miles toward town from East, was the “technical” school with job-focused courses as well as the usual academics. My friend Russell had gotten me somewhat interested in electronics and so Mom took me down to see the school and look at their two electronics-focused departments.
The Radio and TV Repair classes were focused on repair shop skills and sat at one end of the Shop building on the upper floor. The teacher was overweight, unattractive and there was something in how he spoke to my mother that was very wrong. My dislike was instant and intense.
No, I’m not interested in Radio and TV Repair.
Not one bit.
So we walked to the other side of the Shop building to the Electronics Department.
And I met Mr. Schroer.
Franklin Delano Schroer wore polished black shoes with black pants that weren’t quite long enough to completely hide his white socks. That day he had on a short sleeve white shirt and a slim black tie. He wore black horn rim glasses and had his black hair combed straight back.
His face beamed sincerity and his eyes sparkled with intellect.
I liked him instantly.
He showed us the classroom and then the adjacent electronics lab. One of the T-racks of electronic subassemblies was sitting on a table and he briefed us on how his students would take measurements to prove the hand calculations of voltage and current done earlier in the classroom. “Theory meets practice,” he would say. He also proudly showed off the Tektronix oscilloscope that his best students were sometimes allowed to use.
His Electronics course was three hours a day, five days per week. While Tech High offered all the classes I would need to graduate, they would have to be fit into the morning hours. Electronics completely filled the afternoon. It was a two year program and even though I only would have one year before graduation, I was hooked. I wanted that class.
And Mr. Schroer was the consummate teacher. He would present material, work on the chalkboard, ask probing questions of individual students, listening carefully to their answers and then reward or gently chastise them.
He was a caring man.
He was an intelligent man.
And he was a compassionate man.
I like him intensely.
At Tech High, my declining grades reversed almost overnight. I had an “A” in Electronics, and nothing less than a “B” in all other courses. The year flew by and, two semesters later, I graduated.
By then, I knew I wanted that second year of Electronics. Mom knew why that year had been so important, so positive for me and so she talked to the principal and school administrators, and then the city-wide Board of Education and she got permission for me to attend Tech High for another year in what should have been called the 13th grade.
But late in the summer before the school year had started, we got word that Mr. Schroer had received a promotion to the Board of Education. He would not be teaching this year.
Well, that’s OK, I thought, it’s still the Electronics I love.
Enter Mr. Pascal in a shiny gray suit, white shirt and brown tie with highly polished brown shoes and thin socks to match. When he spoke, he measured his words slowly and carefully but stopped often to see how his listener would react. He would then “clarify” his words and invariably take it in a direction more to the listener’s persuasion.
Where exactly Mr. Pascal was in all that was hard to say.
In the classroom, he called roll every day instead of simply noting who, in the six person class, was or was not present.
He read verbatim from the chapter we had been assigned to read the night before and then copied the math examples also from there to the chalkboard and worked through each transformation in the book as if he were figuring it out.
Labs, too, were straight from the book.
I hated it and I hated him.
He disgusted me. He had a snickering kind of insincere laugh like we were the butt of some inside joke and I just couldn’t stand to be around him. I wanted to be anywhere other than in that Electronics class.
A few days after my first semester grades came out with a low C in Electronics, Mom took me to visit Mr. Schroer at his new Board of Education office.
She showed him my grades and, without waiting for his reaction, asked him to come back and teach the class.
Mr. Schroer was momentarily taken aback. After regaining his wits he said his new job kept him completely occupied.
“I couldn’t possibly fit it in.”
Mom asked me to step out and she closed Mr. Schroer’s office door as I exited.
Through the door, I could hear their muted voices, no words came through but the emotions did.
Mom was pleading and growing more and more desperate.
Mr. Schroer was sympathetic but adamant.
I could make out some of his words and it sounded like the same sentence each time; “I couldn’t possibly fit it in.”
The pitch and volume of Mom’s voice increased with each round and there was an edge to the sound as if something was being pushed too far.
Her desperation clear, I wanted to rush inside, tell them to forget the whole thing and then leave, get away from there, never come back.
And I heard her voice break, the pitch warbling out of control.
Standing in the hallway outside Mr. Schroer’s closed office door, my throat closed up. I choked. I was overwhelmed with emotion.
Several minutes passed, their voices quickly growing too soft to hear.
Finally, there was just silence.
When the door finally opened, her eyes were red but her makeup was neat and straight. She was always composed.
Mr. Schroer would teach the morning session of the advanced Electronics class and then do his normal work for the Board of Education in the afternoon. Mr. Pascal would continue with the first year class in the afternoon but I wouldn’t see him.
And in a month, my grades were back on top.