Mr. Jay Falls, English Teacher Extraordinaire

On one of my essays, my eighth-grade English teacher, Mr. Falls, wrote: “Like a world-class athlete, a writer like you should write every day!” (It was something close to that, anyway—I can’t seem to locate A Day in the Life of a 40-Year-Old College Freshman right now. I do still have it somewhere.)

Mr. Falls was a bit of in inspiration to me; at the very least, he was a wake-up call of sorts. I’d been fairly good at writing ever since that experimental creative writing course my school system tried when I was in third grade—the Developmental Writing Program, it was, or DWP. We learned to use adjectives and adverbs and big vocabulary words and our writing as a class became insanely flowery. By eighth grade, though, my writing style had finally begun to gel, and Mr. Falls noticed and encouraged that.

He was the teacher who passed out the list of “Demons” —I forget how many there were. Twenty, or 40. Anyway, they were the two, too, and to; which and witch; who, which, and that; there, their, and they’re; lay and lie; allot and a lot; et cetera. He was also the teacher who read Poe’s The Telltale Heart aloud and with such dramatic fervor that the entire class could practically hear the disembodied heart beating beneath the floorboards. He was the teacher who told us about the girl who chewed gum while playing volleyball and choked and died—and on a team he coached or assisted, I believe. He was the teacher who called me out in front of the class for ordering too advanced of a book (Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451) through the Scholastic Book Club, and made me defend my selection. He was the teacher who told us about the Kent State shootings and made us all cry at the injustice of it all.

He also took me and a group of other decent writers, both from our advanced class and from the “normal” class, to the Power of the Pen contest. In this contest, each student had 40 minutes to write a coherent essay on a topic which wasn’t revealed until the beginning of the time limit. None of us placed, but we all felt like we’d accomplished something just by having been asked to be on the team. —Come to think of it, though, the team did attend the regional competition in Kent; so, we either did better than I recall, or the regional wasn’t an invitational sort of competition.

That regional competition yielded one of the best alliterations I’ve ever come up with, mainly because it was a 20-minute-long collaboration amongst the whole team. We were sitting in the auditorium before the competition, waiting for Mr. Falls to go onstage, collect our folders, and return to pass them out to us. As he proceeded up the stairs with the throng of other middle-school English teachers, he caught a toe on the stage and tripped. Of course, we were all watching him and giggled, saying, “I hope Mr. Falls doesn’t fall!” Which, after some giggly discussion (yes, even the boys giggled), became:

I hope Mr. Falls doesn’t fall through the floor with his folders because of the flab that runs in his family.

And the fact that I can still remember the exact phrase after 15 years should tell you how impressed with ourselves we were.

Anyway… Mr. Falls, wherever you are, here’s to you.