Mr Bickley and me, January 2001, Glen Flora, Texas
Mr Harold Bickley, math teacher at Kubasaki High School
On my last trip to Okinawa, the island where I spent eleven important years of my youth, I visited Kubasaki High School and met with some of my favourite teachers: Mr Hall, Mr Spain, and Miss Nelson. Unfortunately Miss James was not in town and Mr Bickley, my math teacher, had moved to another field, no longer teaching students but running the computer department. We didn't get a chance to meet but spoke on the telephone. He invited me to visit him in Glen Flora, Texas where he would retire shortly. That was November 1999.
In January 2001, after leaving San Antonio where I spent a few days with the family of my late classmate Patty Brightwell (later Vaughan), my English friend and I drove towards Houston where I'd be based for over a month. I had arranged to stop by Glen Flora to see Mr Bickley.
The personal lives of teachers have always been a subject of intrigue and mystery. I had heard that Mr Bickley married late, but I had not the privilege of meeting his wife until my visit to Glen Flora. When I saw him again, everything fell in place ---- his strong Texan accent befitted the small town of Glen Flora. I say town because you could drive through it and feel comfortable to find your way out.
There was a big RV (recreation vehicle) parked outside the house. It was the first time I had encountered such an object of convenience and mobility. He proudly showed me this gargantuan vehicle that promised travel through America, a long distance trip I've yet to undertake. He and his kind wife shared a house with many dogs and cats, each of them with his/her own name and personality. Far away from the world of mathematics and computers, Mr Bickley had finally retired and settled down.
Over dinner, Mr Bickley told me the secret to grading math exams. He would compare the work of his three top students. If their results were the same, he'd use that as the answer sheet. If not, he'd have to spend that extra effort to do the exam himself.
I told him that I had left the world of numbers and gone to the world of words. In my new job as magazine editor, I faced another challenge --- that of writing and crafting a fine article. He was surprised at my career change for he thought I was pretty good at maths. I denied it. I told him I reached my limit in my previous job as financial engineer modelling options. To this, he seemed slightly disappointed that I had abandoned a subject in which he had devoted the greater part of his life.
Mr Bickley's influence on my mathematical development could not be understated, however. Because of his teaching, I felt grounded in a subject I had struggled with since first grade. I only became good in math because it was easier than English, my second language. The strong grounding allowed me to pursue Calculus with Mrs Ermel, preparing me for a major in engineering at university.
The evening was still young, but Mr Bickley needed an early night for his new part-time job. He had to wake up early to drive a truck to another town! Hearing this I didn't feel so awkward about my drastic change of career.
Seeing him again reminded me why my friends Christina, Leslie, Lori, Jim, Alice, June, Wendy, ..... were so fond of him. His dry sense of humour had a delayed effect, after we laughed to wonder whether we were fools to think we were so smart. He was not a softie yet he was very endearing. That's why we had the nerve to ask him to sponsor our wicked nonconformist club - the CIA. He seemed amused by our rebellious activities, cynical even. While we remembered other teachers as being nice, we would never use the word "nice" to describe Mr Harold E. Bickley. He was unique. A great teacher who made you learn. An example of objectivism perhaps --- cut it straight to the chase. No dillying dallying. "Just do it" could have been his motto.
News of his passing away reached me last week when I was travelling. Since then I've read the orbituaries posted on the Kubasaki High School Alumni Discussion Forum. He was remembered by many of my classmates for his sense of humour and his quotes.
As I write this journal entry in the small Dutch village of Bussum (population 37,000) I am reminded that great teachers do their jobs well --- they don't give in but make sure their students learn. This afternoon, I will do the same with my piano students, inspired by memories of Mr Bickley, my analysis and pre-calculus math teacher.
24 April 2006
To Sir With Love photos
To Sir With Love diary entry
Orbituary for Mr Bickley, Wharton-journal spectator, Texas, April 2006:
Harold Bickley, 64, of Glen Flora passed away April 8, 2006, after a sudden and brief illness.
Mr. Bickley’s family came to Glen Flora in the early 1900s to the home place where Harold and Faith resided.
A graduate of Texas Wesleyan College in Fort Worth, he spent 37 years in education beginning in Houston and Fort Worth and later 30 years in Okinawa, Japan, first as a teacher in the military dependant schools and then as a teacher of teachers in those schools. Mr. Bickley was able to enjoy 6 years of retirement and has left many remembrances of his handyman and woodworking skills. Being a member of the Glen Flora Volunteer Fire Department also was a highlight of his retirement years.