Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mr. Biggs

Many years ago in 1977 I had the privilege of attending World History class taught by a gentleman named Frank G. Biggs. Mr. Biggs, like many teachers at Ridgeview High School, had a fascinating variety of personality quirks which made him unforgettable.

I remember sitting in his room many days, where he would do nothing but scrawl notes on the chalkboard (yes, with real chalk) in this horrible chicken scratch handwriting for the entire class. Across the board he would go, not caring that he was standing in the way as he wrote. We would bend and peer and write, write, write. It was an inconvenience at the time, but also a good way to learn the large amount of material he had to cover.

He also had many quotes which he would use over and over. "Ms. LADY! (he would then correct the student for whatever fault he found such as gum chewing or spacing out) and then he would say, "Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it!"

He had a temper, as well. After work for the class that day was finished, his expectation of us was that we would remain seated and silent until the end of class. In such an environment where you have teenage students however, the tendency was to socialize. So, a low level of hushed voices would begin about the classroom. This was, of course, stuff that just *had* to be said. Whisper, whisper, whisper. Then it would get a little bit more widespread and a little more pronounced. Murmur, murmur, murmur. More kids would join in and the noise level would increase. Mumble, mumble, mumble. Then to hear above the mumbling, talking would begin. Blab, blab, blab. At some point Mr. Biggs would come over to a desk and SLAM his hand down like an atomic bomb. BAM!!!!!!!! "I'm ALER-ER-ER-ER-ER-ERGIC TO TALKIN !!!!" He would staccato the R's and his whole body would shake with fury as his eyes bugged out of his head. We would kind of turn and look and fall into silence, our jaws dropped, worried he might have a stroke. Then the process would start over again.

The following story was related to me, but I was not present for it, so I can't vouch for it. Mr. Biggs would slam his hand down on his own desk if he was seated there. I was told that one enterprising soul got up the gumption to loosen the screws on the side of his desk one day. Sure enough, as predicted he slammed his hand down and the desk gave way on one side causing all the books, papers and stuff he had piled there to go shooting down onto the floor. I can only imagine his reaction. I don't know if the student got caught and was sent to "see THE MAN," but the story itself was notable.

He had a trump card though, if you had his class at the end of the day. If the class got loud before or after announcements, he would say, "Stop that TALKIN or you'll be RUNNIN FOR THE YELLOW."

"What? Huh?" people would ask. For those who were new or had not heard it, this was his way of saying that he would hold the class after, so we would have to run to make our bus to get home.

This is much like my own practice of using witty phrases to get what I want from my own classes. "Sit down or you'll be wearing a frown. Find a chair or you'll go nowhere. Stop talking and start walking. Stop flirtin and start workin." They are, I am proud to say, my own creation.

Last but not least, is my own escapade, if you would call it that, in Mr. Biggs class. I remember it was a hot summer day, I was bored, and Mr. Biggs was lecturing. I had a window seat, and I would gaze out onto the baseball field longing for class to be over. I noticed that the watch I wore on my right hand (with the face side on top of the wrist) would catch the sunlight as it came through the window and cause a reflection from the flat glass face onto the windowpane. Well, being particularly bored and stupid, I turned my watch towards the board and had a three inch dot of light dancing around behind him like one of those sing-a-long dots as he lectured. This got a chuckle from the class and Mr. Biggs paused, wondering what was going on. He would turn around to write notes and I would have the dot creeping up his backside like a little spy. Thankfully I stopped before I got caught, or I would have been going down to see "THE MAN."

It is with joy that I write this brief article of my time in Mr. Biggs class. He was in my own opinion, a first rate guy. And to my students, DON'T try the wristwatch-in-the-sunlight trick. I know it. I did it. And I will catch you. Then it will be your turn to see "THE MAN."

G. Houtchens
armchair coach
amateur historian