6th Grade: Mr. Yuhas
When I entered 6th grade, Mr. Yuhas was the first male teacher I ever had in public school who wasn’t a gym teacher, the first man to teach me academics. He was a football coach/English teacher, the kind of thing you’d think was rare, and maybe it is. I only know of one other football coach/English teacher.
Mr. Yuhas would talk slow and deliberate. He would speak in a way that was grave and humerous at once, a tone that communicated the importance of literature but also the levity it could provide. Education was important, but didn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, Yuhas was the one who first introduced us to the scary lockers in the halls, and how their combinations could be simple and secure.
A stout, balding man with a Stalinesque mustache, he could have frightened us if he wanted to, but demonstrated a playful control of his tempter. This alone made him a great role model for young boys.
I once imitated him for the school talent show. When he lectured, the man’s hands would float parallel over the ground like they’d been placed on an invisible podium, and they would strike rhythmically with every word, gesturing at us, his blingy football-ring fingers keeping us engaged. If we acted up, he’d threaten to “nibble” on us, and gnash his teeth. This got a laugh. My two friends Drew and Michael would talk in the back of the classroom, and he referred to us as “the triangle.” Even though we got no his nerves, he paid positive attention to us, always. He broke your stereotype of a football coach who only knows how to yell through a kid’s mistakes, as well as the stereotype that coaches are coaches first and teachers second.
With Mr. Yuhas I read great kid-lit classics like James and the Giant Peach and the script of the classic Twilight Zone tele-play “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” learning how stories, like the man himself at times, could be curious, macabre, witty and instructive all at once. I also learned a thing or two about fear. I decided that our teacher himself was like a giant peach. His head looked like one, and just like a peach, he was a contradiction of tough and soft, sweet with a strong, hearty soul. In this way he was somewhat like my father, who himself had also started his career as a coach.
Mr. Yuhas made a positive impression as a man who balanced care and discipline, and who made literature simple and entertaining. I think his role was important, because it taught young boys that literature could be masculine. You don’t have to be a male teacher to do that, but it sure helps.
Now an English teacher myself, I think I learned from Coach Yuhas how a teacher, particularly a male one (as all mine previous were women) could balance kindness and severity, how big strong men can be unashamed of soft, tender stories, and how to have an enriched love for grim, yet enchanting moral tales.