No, this isn’t a eulogy – not in the classic definition of the word. More like a stroll down Memory Lane [2] while reading a love note about an adored teacher and mentor.

Welcome to the tribute blog edition.
Content warning: more family friendly than usual. [1]

Late last year I was delighted to be contacted by R__ Clucas, son of my former high school teacher, Ted Clucas. Mr. Clucas’ son had contacted me after coming across a blog post wherein I’d mentioned The Generator, Santa Ana High School’s award-winning student newspaper. R__  shared kind words re Mr. Clucas’ fondness for his students, in particular The Generator crew (Mr. Clucas had become the newspaper’s advisor during my senior year, and remained so for several years after that). R__ also let me know that his father was in frail health.

 

Ted Clucas, ca. 1975.

Ted Clucas, ca. 1975.

 

Last week I received a FB message from R__ , excerpted here:

I thought you would want to know that my dad, Ted Clucas, died yesterday. If you are in contact with any other former Santa Ana High students and Generator staff members, perhaps you can pass along that information to them….
It is sad, but I know he lived a long and good life. I also know that advising the Generator and working with students was one of the things he enjoyed most in life.

I did indeed pass along the news. Many SASH alum shared their memories of Mr. Clucas on the FB post, as well as their reflections on teachers and teaching in general. [3] The personal remarks – all loving and generous – I passed along to Mr. Clucas’ son and widow.

There was a pattern to the comments: Ted Clucas is remembered for his kindness, patience, and sage, good humored guidance. I can’t think of a better legacy for a teacher – he was one of “the good guys” whom we both liked and respected.

 

I had more sweaters, but Ted Clucas' students had a sassier mascot.

I had more sweaters, but Ted Clucas’ students had a sassier mascot.

 

A couple of the reflections got me thinking more about the act and art of teaching.

… he did always strike me as part of that wonderful old guard that ushered us through a certain moment in time. A few others I have less fond memories of, but in the greatness of time, they matter less.

I’ve often thought about the “management style” we learned from our teachers & coaches. Most was really poor, having to be unlearned later. Not with Mr. Clucas. We accomplished great things, worked hard & had fun. He was a gift.

A part of that wonderful old guard that ushered us through a certain moment in time. 

So well put (thanks, TF). As for some of that old guard…well…in that certain, Orwellian sense, some of our ushers were more equal than others.

As I watched my now college-age children navigate through their series of high school teachers – some of whom I wanted to nominate for a Nobel Peace Prize, some of whom were no better than trained circus monkeys – I would often marvel at the discrepancies in teachers’ attitudes and abilities, [4] and also at what are seemingly twists of fate, where one bad experience can deactivate a child’s interest in a subject or field they liked…and, of course, how one good teacher can ignite a spark that fosters a lifelong passion for a subject the student had once thought dull, difficult or inconsequential.

What combination of inborn and/or acquired personality traits, training and education, and simple force of will produce a good teacher? (If I had the answer, I’d nominate moiself to the Nobel Prize committee). How much of being an influential, memorable mentor involves a conscious decision,

I shall be like this, and not this.
I shall do and say this, but not this.

and how much is simply an unconscious reaction to circumstance and stimuli? And which came first?

chicken

 

From my FB post of June 11:

Attention SAHS alumni , and in particular *The Generator* staff members: please pass along this news to anyone who might be interested. Ted Clucas, longtime and beloved SAHS teacher and student journalism advisor, died yesterday.

Ted “Teddy” Clucas was both role model and cat wrangler when it came to mentoring 1975’s The Generator  staff. I’ve met few people in life with his combination of wisdom and patience (and yes, he let me get away with calling him “Teddy”). His name will always be on my list of favorite teachers, for so many reasons.

Oh, and about that mascot Mr. Rogers mentioned. I’ll get there. Eventually

Ted Clucas taught high school English, Composition and Literature classes for many years, and became the journalism class teacher and student newspaper advisor during my senior year. I had him for a literature class, and recall wonderfully instructive, generous and sometimes testy back-and-forth discussions about the significance and relevance of Great Expectations and other so-called classics. [5] My recollections also include his at once stern and bemused admonishment – Ms. Parnell! – when he thought I’d gone too far with my comments. That admonishment was to become my de facto nickname (shortened to, Parnell!) during my senior year, when he was my journalism advisor. The rebuke was always good natured (looking back, I sometimes cringe to think of how we tested his tolerance), usually produced in response to the pranks I and other Generator staff pulled.

One of the pranks, by select members of The Generator staff and other students, was an epic toilet-papering of Teddy’s house.  Mr. Clucas was wise enough to see that act as the compliment it was meant to be, where other teachers would have seen harassment or even vandalism.  He felt honored, and rightly so. We didn’t just tp any teacher’s house.

Another of the pranks was ongoing, and involved something more personal. Mr. Clucas spoke with a noticeable lisp.[6]  He of course was well aware of this, and also of the teasing he sometimes received about it. He never took the bait; if a student pointed out or even mocked his lisp, Mr. Clucas reacted as if the comment were along the lines of, “You are wearing a brown tie.”  Yes, I am.

Of the many, mildly unfair mysteries of life, two related ones stand out to me: that the word lisp has an s in it, as does the name Clucas. Because…there’s a story, about a telephone.

That would be the telephone in Mr. Clucas’ journalism classroom. The Generator‘s staffroom was one of the few classrooms with telephone access available to students. Even though we had use of the phone to make calls (groundbreaking reporters that we were), when the classroom phone rang it was supposed to be answered by the advisor. The phone didn’t ring very often, but every time – and I mean every single time – it did, if I were present and/or available, I moiself or one of the newspaper’s Merry Pranksters [7] would rush to the phone and answer it by saying:

“Mither Clucath thpeaking.”

"Please tell me you didn't make that so."

“Please tell me you didn’t make that so.”

Yeth, I did.

Okay, not every time. Sometimes the greeting was, Clucas’ Massage Parlor. Either way, Mr. C would cross his arms, shake his head, and try oh-so-unsuccessfully to prevent the corners of his mouth from twitching upward.

Parnell!

“Teddy” was both mentor and cheerleader when it came to my writing. I wrote various feature articles for the paper, from straight news to reviews to editorials, but my main focus was my regular editorial column, Parnal Knowledge.  As journalism advisor Mr. Clucas was seen, by his fellow teachers, the school administrators, and adult/parent readers of The Generator, as being ultimately responsible for the newspaper’s content. Thus, “the heat” was on him, on many occasions…often due to something I had written.  [8]

I received nothing but support from him when my columns were criticized, whether for content, fact or tone. He was even excited about the first piece of “hate mail” we received. The first time I received an angry letter from a teacher (and soon after that, a parent), he was almost beside himself with glee. I didn’t understand what the big whoop was about, until he told me it was the ultimate compliment and even litmus test for a writer.

“It means someone is reading – it means that you’ve made someone think about something that made them uncomfortable!”

1975 The Generator Staff photo, from my yearbook. Ted Clucas standing in the back row, far left. Yours truly front and center, to the left of Clucas Massage Parlor sign. Our mascot, Theodore, is seated in the second row, far right.

1975 The Generator Staff photo, from my yearbook. Ted Clucas standing in the back row, far left. Yours truly front and center, to the left of Clucas Massage Parlor sign. Our mascot, Theodore, is seated in the second row, far right.

 

The Generator staff was a rough crowd, not suitable for the esteem-challenged nor timorous of spirit. We constructed a class mascot, whom we christened Theodora, in honor of Teddy.  Theodora, a home-made dummy dressed in what I can only describe as pre-punk attire, which included part of a Girl Scout Uniform, had the middle digit of her right hand permanently affixed in what my WWII veteran father decorously referred to as the one finger salute. We installed Theodora in The Generator staffroom, with Teddy’s full knowledge and grudging acceptance if not permission, and her “offensive presence” was noted by several of the few teachers who dared darken the doorways of the journalism classroom. [9]

Each member of The Generator staff had his or her Generator nickname. A few of the more family-friendly ones I can mention included Kisser Carr, Quickie Lynn, Free Sample, and Frostie. [10] The Generator also had its own end-of-the-year awards banquet, during which we bestowed upon each other titles mocking those of the typical high school Senior Class Awards. [11]   For example, we voted our Sports/Fourth Page editor Best Nickname (“Bad Ass Cota”), and the student in charge of the newspaper’s distribution and circulation won the coveted title of Most Likely to Conceive.

And yes, when the latter title was bestowed, Mr. Clucas was sitting in the back of the classroom, shaking his head, not even bothering to stifle his chuckles. [12]

Theodora is ready for her close-up

Theodora is ready for her close-up

*   *   *

* He was one of my HS favorites. Very kind & patient. Looking back, he often seemed quietly amused with the stupidity of adolescence.

He was fully cognizant of our adolescent foolishness, yet was amused by it and never patronized us.

* Mr. C ignited my passion for journalism back in 7th grade…. The torch continues to burn to this day…Mr. C was not only a mentor, but a friend….

* He was a treasure. That rare combination of wisdom, humor, and elegance personified. One of my favorite experiences at SAHS, his English class and the Generator experience.

* Oh, yes, I remember him….bemused by our antics, gently guiding us away from the precipice when necessary. Don’t I remember a chuckle he had?

I, too, remember that chuckle, and so much more. Our little corner of the world was a better, kinder, wiser, and funnier place, because it had Ted Clucas in it.

*   *   *

May you have the good fortune to have your heart warmed by fond memories of an awesome teacher and mentor,
and may you have the good determination to be the kind of person who will be fondly remembered…
and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Not to worry, regular readers, the feminist-freethinking-political-cultural rants shall return next week. With an extra bonus – fart jokes!

[2] An actual street in Santa Ana, one that will be familiar to those who are referenced in this not-a-eulogy.

[3] It was a thoughtful bunch – many of whom after high school pursued careers in journalism and other forms of writing.

[4] as well as my own surprise that “this ( good teacher, bad teacher) is still going on?!”

[5] Frequently, for the sake of argument, I challenged the application of the label “classic” to whatever book we were reading. Imagine that.

[6] I was a fellow lisper, but in recovery:  I had gone to speech therapy sessions in grade school.

[7] Okay, it was mostly me, and at least two others Who Shall Not Be Named At This Time and in This Venue…but it was never, ever our Editor-in-Chief, Deborah Franklin, who went on to become a respected freelance science writer and NPR contributor. Deb was too kind and genteel for such base shenanigans (although I caught her laughing at them on more than one occasion).

[8] Including, from the very first issue, the name of my column.

[9] What the heck – Theodora kept the blue noses at bay.

[10] A nickname I’d bestowed on our newspaper photographer as per his tendency (in my eyes) to strut stiff-legged, as if his underwear had been frozen.

[11] Most Likely to Succeed, Most Studious, Most Athletic, Campus Clown… you know the drill.

[12] I think this is enough footnotes, don’t you?