I heard about Mr. Martin before I met him. A few upperclassmen in high school were complaining about his homework assignments. They complained so much that I found myself dreading his English class my 10th grade year.
When I walked into his classroom, the first thing I noticed was order. Nothing was out of place and all students were required to behave like they had home training, which wasn’t my experience in my 9th grade English class. 😂
It didn’t take long for me to discover his classroom was considered a safe haven for students who wanted to avoid the raucous activity in the cafeteria during the lunch period. I’m sure he would’ve appreciated the quiet yet he made his classroom available to anyone seeking sanctuary, as long as we behaved properly.
Mr. Martin’s appearance was as neat as his classroom: a black vest, button up shirt, black slacks and black sneakers that looked comfortable enough to walk to D.C. and back, but a far cry from what my peers deemed fashionable. He definitely received a bit of flack for those shoes. However, he held his own, sometimes throwing witty comebacks our way in the process.
His classroom walls were lined with small, handwritten posters listing articles of speech, story structure and other important information required to understand the English language.
Mr. Martin knew his audience. He used the medium of film in an attempt to bring literary classics to life in his 10th grade and AP English classes. Dignified and always eloquent, I will always remember the way the entire class erupted into a fit of laughter while watching the “wonderful” special effects Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Birds. Mr. Martin tried his best to remain dignified, but we wore him down in the end.
During a parent teacher conference, my mother shared with Mr. Martin that we tuned into Masterpiece Theater every Sunday night to watch film adaptations of British literary classics, but we weren’t always able to catch them due to other commitments. The following school day, he provided me with a printed list of his film library and told me my mother could borrow anything she wanted as long as he wasn’t using a title for his lessons. Who does that? Only Mr. Martin!
When senior year approached, I compiled my list of teachers I wanted to request letters of recommendation from and he was definitely one of them. Known for often using a calligraphy pen, I still have a copy of the letter he wrote, signed with his trademark N.R. Martin, which had his student desperately attempting to guess the names those initials represented. I can still recall the horrified look he threw our way when we asked if the “N” stood for “Norman”. “Heavens no,” he responded. He never never revealed it to us.
Mr. Martin always encouraged me to keep reading great literature and explore various writing styles to discover my voice. As I began to step out of my comfort zone to travel abroad with other teachers, he was extremely supportive, providing a listening ear to hear my “unique perspective” when I returned.
Not long ago I stumbled across the letter of recommendation he wrote me almost 20 years ago and the Van Gogh thank you card/magnet he’d given me as a thank you for the Van Gogh coasters I brought back for him from Paris since I’d overheard him mention he was a fan. He proofread my college application essays. I had to get the man something!
In recent years I’ve wondered what he was up to, even taking lengths to Google his name in hopes of a glimpse. Was he writing? Was he drawing? Did he go back to modeling? Was he still watching Masterpiece Theater? I found out via a friend that he passed away two days ago.
I went to school pre-selfie days so I don’t have a picture with him. However, I still remember his voice and that I felt he didn’t look like he belonged at our high school, yet he walked those halls with a quiet authority as if his grandfather had built the school. He belonged and he made sure his students felt they belonged as well.
Anyone else have a favorite teacher in grade school?