Allow me to introduce you to the best, hardest working, and most exasperating teacher I ever had:
Mr. John Hickey, my 8th and 9th grade English teacher.
I have often marveled at his teaching methods. My class had Mr. Hickey for 2 hours each day for 2 years. He integrated literature, grammar, vocabulary, handwriting, and composition thematically in brilliant ways. On Fridays, he assigned a piece of literature to read over the weekend. We read everything: Longfellow, Asimov, Frankl. After a discussion on Mondays, he assigned a writing prompt derived from the literature to be addressed in our weekly essays.
In general, the first half of class dealt with vocabulary and grammar lessons. Mr. Hickey used a technique he called “parsing.” Basically, parsing entailed labeling real sentences from oral language and literature as exercises to teach us the building blocks of language, which are the building blocks of thinking. During the second half of class, we wrote the drafts of our weekly essays. On Wednesdays, we turned in our essay drafts for his review.
One of my distinct memories is Mr. Hickey’s leaving school at 5 p.m. carrying a huge stack of 90 essays home to review.
On Thursdays, we got our drafts back with red ink everywhere. The grammar mistakes had been marked, with written comments about our thinking, organization, structure, word use, etc. I have no idea how he graded 90 essays in one night in such detail. We revised our essays in class and turned them in on Friday for a final grade. The following Monday, Mr. Hickey returned the graded essays and shared some of them aloud. He gave two grades for each essay: one for mechanics and one for content.
I watched my writing improve weekly, and not just mine—everyone in class improved. We did scientific, persuasive, expository, narrative, descriptive, creative, essay, and editorial writing, and our minds were broadening.
Mr. Hickey opened up the literary part of my soul and flamed the fire with his own passion for literature and the written word.
Having Mr. Hickey as a teacher was a love-hate relationship. His expectations were very high. One of my favorite memories centers around a test. We begged him to postpone the test because we had a big football game away and would be late coming home on the busses. His reply was given with an index finger pointing into the air: “Only God can prevent this test tomorrow!”
The next day, one of the student workers in the office sneaked on to the school-wide intercom system. “Mr. Hickey, Mr. Hickey. This is God. Don’t give that test 5th period. That is all.” To the amazement of the 5th period class, Mr. Hickey collapsed into hysteric laughter. He laughed so hard, great tears began to roll down his face. And the test was postponed until the next day.
I am so grateful for Mr. Hickey’s influence in my life.
I opted to take a double major in English and Biology at university. When I got there, I tested out of the first two years of English composition and realized just how well he had prepared us as I looked around at my fellow English majors struggling with university level work.
Mr. Hickey taught for 34 years until his eyes began to fail.But retirement was not on his agenda. He hired a reader, went to seminary, and became a Catholic priest, serving first in Mexico, then in Texas.
Last fall, he passed away. But his legacy lives on in the lives of all his students, and especially in mine.
Dr. Patty LeBlanc is Professor of Education and Co-Chair of the Ed.D. program at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. She is actively involved in the writing process with her doctoral students.