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A few weeks ago, Cindy, a friend who happens to teach in Los Angeles, asked me to write about a teacher who inspired me.

For those of you who have read the Hitchhikers’ Trilogy, the past few weeks have been roughly equivalent to Zaphod going into the booth and glimpsing the entire universe.

(Those of you who know the dollars and cents of my stay in British Columbia can a much more in-depth explanation.)

Anyway…ten days ago, an article appeared about a science teacher being honoured for her skill and dedication.

It wasn’t just any science teacher.  It was Laura Greer!
She definitely made an impression and a difference…especially the impression.

She’s fifty-three now, but she was twenty-eight or twenty-nine when I knew her.

Here’s how I met her, with the exception of seeing her at an assembly.

The first day of grade-nine physical science, I walked into the classroom, the wooden floor squeaking with every footstep–totally uncool–and saw a young woman who looked like Ann Wilson in her Dreamboat Annie days.
(Those of you born too late for this to make sense; just know that she looked a lot like Lily Allen.)

I took a course syllabus from her, sat down and concentrated on not looking at her for reasons apparent to guys.

After everyone had filed in and she had taken roll, she turned on the gas-burner on her desk, scooped some Tide laundry detergent into a flask and jammed the end of a metre-long pipette into it.

“I believe in making science interesting.” Mrs. Greer announced, her grin hinting at something better than a boring textbook. “By the way; never do any of the things you’ll see me do. I’m a professional.”

She stuck the loaded end of the pipette about ten centimetres from the flame and blew through it, causing a ball of fire to belch forth as the detergent ignited like rocket fuel.

That was just the beginning!

From her, I learned the following:
The elements of the periodic table. I already knew some of it, but memorising the table had been doomed, as the only one I had was in a set of encyclopaedias.
She gave each of us a copy of the table, which I still have. It’s a bit worn, but I don’t use it much. I committed it to memory.
(It is for this reason, that upon encountering something with a chemical formula indicating that it was basically antimony hexafluoride with an accompanying hydrogen ion, I immediately realised it was the most powerful acid ever invented. Organic material literally disappears in a puff of smoke and heat. Just take my word for that.)

That alcohol has an acetate group in it. (Reverse ‘h’ and ‘o’, revealing ‘COOH’…the basic chemical formula for acetate.)
This is a good thing to remember when you’re listening to Sweeny Todd, The Who or anyone else while drinking. You just stick to vodka or everclear and drink plenty of water. It’s that acetate group and the fusel oils found in ‘non-clear’ liquors that gives you the killer hangover.

That terminal velocity on Earth is 9.6m/s².
(In fact, this is where my father and I began to significantly diverge.
He said, “You mean thirty-two feet per second.”
“Whatever.” I replied, implying that he was stuck in the past.)

I learned that zero kelvins (or kelvin, if you prefer) is absolute zero. My father being a ‘Rankine’ person, didn’t budge. Oh well.

I also learned that temperature is the measure of the kinetic energy within a system.
(If you doubt this, feel free to spray your wheels with a water-hose after a long drive. You’ll see a lot of steam. Of course, if you just run the water directly on the rotors, they will very likely shatter, hence my mention of spraying. This is also one reason that high-velocity ammunition does so much damage.)

In short; this was the point where a kid from rural New Mexico quit thinking as such and began turning into me.

This was where I began simultaneously thinking of things in metric and US units.
(True story: When I drove my car through the Peace Arch Crossing, the Canadian border officer handed my license back to me and said, “We use the metric system. 110 means roughly seventy, not one-hundred ten miles per hour.”
To which I replied, “I’m American, but I’m not stupid. I’ve always driven on the metric system. I’ve used it since I was fourteen.”)

I was able to say that, thanks to Laura Greer.

It was only her second year as a teacher, but Laura Greer made us think!
Each of us had to write a report on an element–mine was bismuth, although I almost chose antimony–and read it.
Each of us had to choose a project for the science-fair and build it.
(I originally chose a ‘shotgun-mic’, but I couldn’t afford the supplies and my father had a TV kit lying around–another blog–so I changed my project to a colour TV.)
She did not hide behind the desk like many other teachers, but stood in front of it, hands clasped behind her back as she swayed slightly, side-to-side like a skier–turns out that she was–ready to help any student–even offering limited assistance on exams–and pounce upon any would-be cheats.

I say “pounce,” but she wasn’t really pouncing or even moving that fast, as she was in the last trimester of her pregnancy–with her son, Adam, if my memory serves me properly.

I remember her as a very funny, approachable person.
I remember her talking of how she hoped to someday have a lab of her own as a research chemist.
I also remember her talking about her hobby of restoring old furniture–stripping and reapplying finish, et cetera–which stuck in my head. Such a hobby was normally the province of fathers and grandfathers, not beautiful young women.

Laura Greer also entered the lexicon of my personal language.
When the Pamela Smart, Mary Kay Letourneau, Pamela Rogers Turner and Debra Lafave cases forced their way into the media, I would always say, “Sex with a teacher? My God! There weren’t even any of mine I would’ve wanted to see in a swimsuit…except…for Mrs. Greer and, even then, sex never crossed my mind!”

I’ll tell you another thing which was different; religion.
It simply wasn’t mentioned in school.
I was in a science class, not a theology lecture.
She–as were most of my other teachers–was married, so I assumed she was a Christian. I couldn’t tell you if she was Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or even an Atheist. We didn’t talk about that sort of thing.

This blog seems to be running a lot longer than I’d intended, so I’ll wrap things up.

Mrs. Greer left at midterm, and another excellent teacher–of whom I’ll soon blog–who can best be compared to Holly Hunter in “Saving Grace” took her place.

I’m very happy that Laura Greer returned to teaching.
Losing someone like her would have been a detriment to education; her honours are well-deserved and I wish her many more happy years in the classroom.

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