The Perfect Teacher; Mission: Possible?

Sunday, July 19, 2009, 12:33

Most of us have at some point expressed succinct – and none too complimentary – opinions about our offspring’s educators. The most complimentary of these would no doubt have included an oblique reference to a “teachers’ mentality”, the attitude that embraces all that is supercilious, nit-picking, pretentious, and cynical. Before anyone takes me to task, yet again, for having the aforesaid opinion – I will clarify that I have been on both sides of the fence, sometimes straddling it, too.

That is why I took up the challenge to enter a writing contest that asked contestants to pick a television character and say why he would have made an ideal teacher.

My essay won me the digitally re-mastered Series Six of the classic Mission: Impossible television series… twenty-two episodes starring Peter Graves, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus and Lynda Day George. Elaborate psychology was more in evidence than the latter-day hi-tech.

All in all, it goes to show that there is more to the scruffiest ‘tek of them all than the praises in the Billy Howard record King Of The Cops. “I read lately that his dementia is so terrible that he doesn’t even remember he was Columbo. So I’d catch Peter Falk not as himself, but as the detective with the dirty Mac, as he appeared in the series, and put him on the dais to be my teacher.

I have attended several Lateral Thinking courses to be able to appreciate the way he seizes on the least, tiniest clue, and extrapolate about where it fits into the great scheme of things.

He did not really care whodunit; all he wanted to do was catch him – or her. This is what is known in the writing trade as the “inverted detective story” And that is another reason I’d want him as a teacher – no boring explanations… just the nuts and bolts of a topic, and the devil take the hindmost. It backfires on me to say I am tenacious – for people usually perceive me as pestiferous.

However, Columbo is a man after my own heart in that, because he worries the suspects till they are on edge. This means that as a teacher he will unravel the intricacies of a topic without being overly didactic… he does it in an enthralling series of logical steps.

Aficionados of the story will know that sometimes, Columbo himself does not appear until the first half hour of the episode is done – meanwhile, we would have been watching the crime, and how the perpetrator tries to cover his deeds.

This means that as a teacher, Columbo will never want centre stage, even in the denouement; he will give the person enough rope to hang himself… and the final frame is usually of a disgruntled criminal who would have thought he had committed the perfect crime.

As a teacher, Columbo would translate this into allowing us some leeway in how we undertook to study…. but when push comes to shove, and examinations are approaching, he would make sure we buckle down to work. This is also why, in many of the episodes, the criminal feels safe enough to throw hints and clues in Columbo’s way, in order to exonerate himself… but ends up implicating himself further.

So, since Columbo the teacher would allow us (relative!) freedom, we would be, conversely, encouraged to study. Yes, indeed, Columbo would, make a great teacher.”

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