Have you ever seen a Muppet that didn’t look 70% stoned? It would still be the happy little embodiment of childhood that ninjas a bit of learning into your regularly scheduled program of silliness and games but without looking like a creepy homeless hipster. [Sidenote: the homeless hipster is a rare creature. Also know as the anti-hipster they are a breed that is actually homeless but goes to thrift shops to look like they are posh soccer moms.] The point is, if you can picture one of these miraculously normal(ish) Muppet you are picturing my elementary school French teacher who we’ll call Mr. Muppet because it’s impolite to post personal information of teachers online and completely not because I forgot the name of a teacher who taught me for four years.
As an eight-year-old, I was pretty proud of myself for getting (mostly) the hang of English. Sure I still had a heavy accent and thought “fauquxe” was an appropriate spelling for a 3 letter word but I was friends with the white people in my class now and I even had some of the slang down. But I guess the universe saw fit to crush my growing ego. The universe’s weapon of choice: French. The 5 years of mandatory French classes taught me two things actually related to French. Firstly that fish is poisonous and secondly that France doesn’t believe Quebec is real. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything in French class. Au contraire, I learned the importance of hoarding and several slightly impressive magic tricks.
You see, Mr. Muppet was the ‘fun’ teacher. He had a beard, toys, lots of games that made it look like we were learning when we had the answer sheets hidden in our laps under the desks, and he always wore bright colourful sweaters. He wasn’t a full time teacher at my primary school but the French teacher that taught at a bunch of different schools that were too small to have an actual French teacher. So seeing Mr. Muppet two or three times a week very quickly became a spectacle for the class, something to look forward to. We would spend maybe 10 minutes of the class learning then the rest would be dedicated to fun and games. Of course there was the regular grade school junk like singing songs and colouring. But Mr. Muppet would have these little game-show type games with French vocabulary or grammar and every time you got a question right he would give you a little slip of paper you could write your name on. These were the all-mighty tickets. At the end of classes every day, you were supposed to put all the tickets you earned into a little paper bag and on Fridays, Mr. Muppet would draw a few names out of the bag and a lucky few would get prizes. These were usually those magnet toys or little cars from the dollar store. But by 5th grade everyone in the class had figured out that once in a while Mr. Muppet would bring in a spectacularly cool prize and suddenly, the whole class would have an abundance of tickets. Every year after the book fair at the school, Mr. Muppet would end up with a few of the leftover posters and bookmarks and I always kept my tickets for those Fridays. He must have known what was going on but he really didn’t care. All he did was smile like usual and turn a blind eye to the tiny blackmarket that revolved around his tickets.
Friday was the best day of French class not only because it was prize day but because it was magic day as well. In retrospect some of the tricks weren’t that impressive at all but when Mr. Muppet always made it seem like he had just brought a corpse back to life or conjured an infinite supply of chocolate. Most of them were simple card or string tricks and they never failed, even after four years, to inspire awe and applause in his audience. I’m still not sure if it’s because he just had that sort of resounding enthusiasm about him or because we were all just that stupid back then. When we were really lucky, he’d show us how he’d done the magic trick. Usually I didn’t understand his explanations but there was one I still remember. It had something to do with gluing two playing cards together, folding them in half and flipping them in your hand. I was so awestruck when he showed us the trick and then even more so when he explained it that I went home, glued and folded the cards, and showed it to my friends. Naturally, they saw right through it and I couldn’t understand how he could do it so well and I hadn’t managed to fool a single person. I ended up deciding that it was because he was magician and muggles just aren’t as good at magic tricks as real magicians.
The most amazing thing about Mr. Muppet wasn’t that he gave us toys or let us get away with a lot of things or even that he could do real life magic. His most amazing trait was always being happy. We’ve all had teachers who were never really that great because at some point they just stopped caring about whether or not their students succeed and stopped liking their job. Don’t think your students can’t tell because even the small ones can. It’s rare to find a teacher who’s been teaching all their life and still has all that enthusiasm and general cheerfulness of a 20 year old. He always talked happily with all the kids and I never felt condescended by him which is one of the reasons he’s kind of a Muppet He never talked town at you and even when he was giving you instructions or criticizing your work it didn’t feel like it. He was one of the kids, one of us. The huge, well defined line between adult and kid defined my childhood and still nags at me today but Mr. Muppet had a strange ability to cross over to the kid side at leisure and the kid side was the side that was safe and okay which made him safe and okay.
One year there was this terrible snow storm and the school had been closed. And even though he didn’t work at my school exclusively, he got there at least half an hour before school started (which was when I got there, not knowing that it was a snow day) and just stood by himself in the parking lot. When my mom pulled into the parking lot he ran to the car and told us, smiling the whole time despite the wind and snow, that we’d have to go back home. I even remember him throwing a joke in there. And when my mom was just about ready to close the car door and drive off I did one of those annoying curious child things and asked him if there was anything he was afraid of. He said the teletubies then politely listened as I bragged about the scary TV show I had managed to watch all the way through last night. Even as a child I registered that Mr. Muppet didn’t have to do any of that. Maybe he had to stand by the parking lot and tell people to go home but it was a testament to his character that he managed to smile and make small talk and stand in the storm instead of just wait inside. He was about 60 at the time.
There was only one time I remember Mr. Muppet being sad. It was my last year being taught by him but I was still a relatively young and innocent little kid. I didn’t understand war or meaningless violence and I didn’t know what 9/11 meant. It was December 6th, the anniversary of the École Polytechnique massacre. I didn’t understand a lot of the things he said but I got the general gist of it. He was talking about a man killing a lot of women just because they wanted to study and that made me sad so I understood why he was sad. And then he started talking about his daughter who was all grown up now and just graduated from university which made me even more sad and I wasn’t sure why because it’s good that he has a smart daughter even if it’s bad that women like her were killed. I think that was the first time I’d heard of real life tragedy and it was much worse than when Kira had to fight Athren or when Buckbeak was nearly killed because it was so meaningless. Fictional tragedy serves the purpose or driving plot or teaching some lesson But in the École Polytechnique massacre there wasn’t any reason for tragedy or at least not one that made sense. And in the end there wasn’t even a happy ending.
So that was my French teacher who taught me about magic, hoarding, and empathy and not very much French. I haven’t thought about him in a few years now until I was trying to think of someone quirky yet inspiring enough for this prompt and it might be the nostalgia but I think Mr. Muppet is a great man or at the very least a great idea. Through the course of writing this, the ideal of Mr. Muppet has become a role model for me. Thinking about him now, he seems happy and so much wiser than I ever gave him credit for. I hope he’s still happy and I hope he knows that he was an amazing teacher and (as cheesy as this sounds) the sort of teacher and person I aspire to be.