Me and Mr. Chips: Compare and Contrast

Posted on December 31, 2011


Goodbye, Mr. Chips

I figured they'd write a book about me and evrything. (Image via Wikipedia)

Despite the lofty aims I had when stepping into my first classroom seven years ago, I’m forced to admit that a sizeable number of differences still exist between me and Mr. Chips.

For one thing, Mr. Chips could remember his students’ names.


Well, I’m not really good with names. Of my eight grandchildren. I can assign a first name to only three of them, with a couple of other first names wandering around looking lost and confused.

When it comes to remembering the names of 40 to 90 students whom I see for two or three hours a week — well, it’s not going to happen.

So yes. Mr. Chips could remember names, and I can’t. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing. Very early in my career I had an extraordinarily pretty girl stay behind to talk about the low grade she’d received on her last assignment. She didn’t want to complain, she said. She wanted to tell me that all my criticisms and comments had made her feel that for the first time, she was actually learning something in English.

Naturally, this made me think, “Wait. I gave you a low mark?”

Wish You Were Here (Avril Lavigne song)

This is Avril Lavigne. As always, her image is here solely for informational purposes. (Image via Wikipedia)

Okay, she wasn’t an Avril Lavigne. In fact, I can’t recal what she looked like and could probably meet her on the street without knowing who she was. The point, however, is that had I known whose assignment I was marking, my criticisms may well have been far less stern, and her mark significantly elevated.

So I figured it was probably best if I didn’t really make an effort to remember their names. This not only made sense, but it demanded no extra effort on my part.

But along with his ability to remember names, Mr. Chips was also wise.


Well — I can fake wisdom so long as I don’t have to actually speak. (It’s generally a good idea if I don’t move around a lot, too.)

Let’s face it. I’m never going to be wise. I have no clue about what’s going on — and if whatever is going on doesn’t directly involve me, I probably don’t care. If I do happen to know what’s going on, I certainly don’t know how to go about changing it. (And whatever is going on almost always seems in need of changing.)

Still, when it comes to being “wise,” as long as I keep my mouth shut, I can get by.

Probably the biggest difference between Mr. Chips and me, however, is that Mr. Chips was a gentle and kind soul.


Yeah. Well. It’s highly likely that any burgeoning reputation I may once have had for being “gentle” or “kind” was pretty much demolished by my occasional rant about the degenerate state of the education system, the illiterate students it’s turning out, or the small-mindedness of the network executives who cancelled Firefly. (And don’t get me started on the inefficiency and lousy hygiene of hot-air hand driers in public washrooms.)

Furthermore, if I’m being perfectly honest, I suppose that misinforming the students and lying to them about the nature of their assignments doesn’t help.

Oh. And then there’s that “Guest Speaker” I bring in whenever I can.

The Guest Speaker generally visits us in the first or second class following the mid-term break, after we’ve spent the first part of the semester critiquing and analyzing information. He gives a very sincere and detailed presentation, consisting of misleading, but factual scientific studies and statistics, pointing up the dangers, and prevalent use of dihydrogen monoxide. When finished, he hands around a petition calling for its ban.

He springs the petition on me as a surprise, you understand. I hem and haw for a few minutes while debating whether to allow it in my class or not, even if it is for an important cause. Ultimately, however, I relent, telling the students to sign it only if they thought he’d made a good argument.

Roughly 90% of the students sign the petition calling for its ban.

The logo of, primary current residenc...

Beware! (Image via Wikipedia)

For the second half of the class, after revealing that “dihydrogen monoxide” is simply the chemical term for H2O, I berate them for having been fooled into signing a petition against water without even beginning to apply any critical or analytical thought to the issue.

Is that kind? Does that sound gentle? I think not.

(It’s way fun, though.)

But whatever differences between Mr. Chips and me, however, there is one respect in which we are identical. Mr. Chips said “Goodbye” to the teaching profession.

And now, so have I.

It was a difficult decision. I really love teaching. But it’s a losing battle against a system that seems not so much broken, as purposely designed to turn out illiterate and uneducated citizens who have nevertheless been semi-trained in one or two useful tasks, and fully trained in not questioning the Social Authorities. Trying to induce a spark of critical thought and expression in students who have been systematically conditioned against them, while at the same time trying not to attract the attention of the Social Authorities in administration, have left me weary, frustrated, and almost perpetually angry.

That means it’s time for a change

So, if you know anyone who’s looking for a really good technical writer, tell them that until they find one, I’d be happy to fill in.


The Fear and Loathing series: in which I attempt to land a teaching job at a different college, and discover yet new levels of insanity in the education system.