THIS week I learned that one of my favourite school teachers and mentors passed away. Pat Meaney nurtured my talent for writing and was one of the first to encourage me to hone and develop my craft. He believed that gifts should be used and never wasted. He was my teacher during an extremely formative time in my life. Pat would be tickled pink to think I would write about him, but only on the condition that my words didn’t include empty platitudes. In his honour, I will describe what I learned from him, he would like that because being an educator was of utmost importance to him.
From the very first day when Mr Meaney scrawled his name in chalk to the giggles of the class, it was clear that any connotations of him being “a meanie" did not fit his character. He was our friend. He managed to come down to our level and stay there. There was an air of difference about him, he was an unconventional teacher. He treated students like young adults and challenged us as much as he could by asking big questions and debating the answers. He was an English teacher so we were kindred spirits from early on. I always loved to see him walking through the door.
In Transition Year He taught us all about haiku poetry. A haiku is a really short Japanese poem of only 3 sentences in length. You have to follow the pattern of a certain number of syllables. Sometimes if I raised my hand he’d say “I only want to hear it if you can say it in a haiku!” Of course instead of silencing me, his request challenged me and I started playing him at his own game and would have the poem ready before lifting my hand. Other days, our teacher would ditch any lesson plan and just talk to us. I remember one particular day he asked us about success, how we would define it and measure it. Our conclusion was that each one of us had our own version of success and as long as we were pursuing it, we were onto a winner. That has stayed with me. Pat made individuality cool. I wanted to be a free thinker just like he was.
The greatest lesson I learned from Pat was not to take myself, or life, too seriously. This is a lesson I have tried to carry with me ever since. When engaging with students, this man was always laughing and joking. He would be quick to point out if I was being dramatic or self centred in my teenage woes.
He was teaching me at a time when my body rarely cooperated with my wishes and I was in a lot of pain. During my last two years of school he regularly found me sitting by myself trying to overcome pain. He would disappear and then suddenly return with some typed pages of literature, a short story, a play or a poem for me to critique.
It took me a while to understand that he was actually sharing his own original writing compositions with me. No author’s name was visible but every now and then he would drop a hint that he had penned a piece himself. His willingness to share his own work was admirable. He wanted me to think but he wanted to remind me that I could distract myself from pain whenever decided to. He espoused living life to the full and having fun while always learning. I’m very grateful for having known and learned from such a warm, kind and wonderfully witty man. RIP