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Giving teacher a bad time

8/21/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

On the Mark — By Craig Marks

As we find ourselves at the start of another school year, I’m remembering a former teacher of mine. She was a caring, dedicated educator who did not deserve the torment I gave her.

Her name was Madame Pringle, and she taught French at Firestone High School. I was not the best French student, but I knew my vocabulary and could conjugate many of France’s best and most popular verbs. And I was attentive in class, or at least I was until I returned from Christmas vacation, as it was then called.

My birthday fell during the break, and in December I got a watch. Not any kind of watch, mind you, but a digital watch. Kids today may roll their eyes at the digital watch, which they see as the third-least desirable prize in the bowling alley claw machine (behind “Hannah Montana Ring” and “nothing”). But in the mid 1970s, a watch without hands was the epitome of cool.

A digital watch was the future, the Ohio Savings bank clock shrunk to the size of a quarter. At the press of a button, glowing red numbers appeared on its face. If you hit the button in the dark, it looked like the numbers were floating. On New Year’s Eve 1977, I sat in my bed watching the floating display change from 12 31 to 01 01, which shows both the hypnotic appeal of the watch and the status of my high school social life.

When I returned from Christmas vacation, my watch and I were inseparable, except for when I was playing dodge ball in gym or using a hammer in wood shop.

And though I was not entirely cognizant of it, I had become a “clock clicker,” a deviant variation of a clock watcher. I’d hit the watch every 20 seconds, as if performing CPR on it. Sometimes I did it because I wanted to know the time or date. Or I did it to see if I could predict when the “second hand” would display “00.” Or I did it because of my dubious belief that the red numbers provided a small degree of warmth.

But I didn’t really need a reason. Thanks to the brilliant scientists who brought us the moon landing and to the generosity of my Aunt Estelle — whose thank-you note was forthcoming — I could summon the time at will. I relished that power, so I hit the watch button again and again, a habit that went totally unnoticed by my teachers.

Except for Madame Pringle, who, after days and days of this, gave me a look as if she were wondering what train I was waiting to catch.

“Etes-vous impatient, Monsieur Marks?” she asked me.


She repeated the question. “Impatient” was not a word on the French vocabulary list, but I picked up its meaning pretty quickly. I also picked up why the question was being directed to me.

“Non,” I said, sheepishly.

Perhaps I could have used that moment to show my mastery of the language. I could have pointed to my wrist and exclaimed, “No, ze timepiece, it eez magnifique! It eez incroyable! It eez — how you say? — just the neatest thing ever!”

Shortly thereafter my constant-clicking habit stopped, a combination of being singled out in Madame Pringle’s class and the discovery that watch batteries have finite lives and didn’t grow on trees. I went back to being a solid-B French student.

This summer, I learned from my Facebook friends that Madeleine Pringle recently passed away. On the site my former classmates and I posted our fond memories of her, which made me think of the watch incident.

I hope my daughter, who is a high school sophomore this year, is lucky enough to have a French teacher as dedicated as Madame Pringle. You need a teacher who keeps a sharp eye on her students, and I’m glad she was on my watch.

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