Growing up, I had one of the best English teachers around. He was the kind of English teacher who would dim the lights, light incense and play Bob Marley in the midst of class. He had also previously taught in Jamaica, which might help to explain this behaviour.
I had him as a teacher in both elementary school and in high school. All in all, he probably taught me 3 or 4 years of English–excluding the fact that he was also the coach of my high school basketball team (which I was on).
But more than just being a cool guy, he drilled a number of important takeaways and life lessons into his students. Still to do this day I remember and try and follow them. And I know that many of my classmates do the same. So today, I’d like to share 3 of them with you.
1. Don’t say umm
We all say “umm” from time to time to fill in our sentences when we can’t think fast enough or we don’t know what to say, but it sounds awful. It also makes you sound indecisive and less clear about the message you’re trying to get across.
If we ever said “umm” in class he would make us repeat our sentence again and again until we said it without saying “umm.” He would literally stand there saying: “Start again. Start again. Start again.”
Similarly, he wouldn’t allow us to say “like”, unless we were using it to truly express that something had the same qualities as something else. But if you just said like for no reason, he would say: “Is it like that or is it that?” Again, it’s about being clear and precise in your language.
2. Don’t use very
By using adverbs such as very and extremely, you’re taking the easy way out. There’s always a better word or way to convey your message. Don’t say you’re very tired; say you’ve reached a point of debilitating exhaustion. Better yet, make up your own word (he never said that). Very is boring, lazy and uninventive.
3. Just do it
When we used to ask him how long he wanted our essays to be, he would always reply with the same thing: “As long as a piece of string.” And when we initially asked him how long a piece of string was, he would then say: “Just do it.” That was his message over and over again to us: when in doubt, just do it. We eventually stopped asking.
At the time, I never really understood how profound this simple message was. Initially I thought he just wanted us to get on with things but, in fact, he was saying so much more. He was telling us to stop relying on others for direction. Stop following orders, and take initiative. Just do it. Poke the box, dammit.
I’ve had this post sitting in my draft folder for a few months now. I don’t often deviate from city related topics, but I wanted to put this one out there. So if you’re reading this Mr. Mott-Trille, umm, like, thanks so very much! 🙂