Way back when…

…I was a schoolboy, aged 10, my teacher was Mr. Ross Laugher (pronounced law, not laugh-er if you valued your recess time) and he was, initial impressions and appearances to the contrary, a lovely man. Over the years, I’ve been taught by, learned alongside, learned from, and taught or mentored dozens and dozens of wonderful educators, and of them all it was Mr. Laugher who came to mind as I was walking with Scout this morning.


I suspect he popped into my head because I remember him as being so enthusiastic about the natural world. Scout, as ever, was being enthusiastic about the natural world. It was a brisk and barely above freezing outing, and we were checking in with our favourite trees and inhaling the invigorating air, damp and mossy after the overnight rains. I think Scout maps the world through her nose. Light or dark, wet or dry, she has an unerring instinct when finding her way. Scout scouting!

A favourite tree

Back to Mr. Laugher. If you didn’t know him, or were apprehensive about moving into his classroom for your final year in elementary school, you might have thought he was a slightly forbidding and imposing figure. Bearded, gold wire rim spectacles, collar and tie, corduroy slacks, an array of sweater vests, and a brisk and purposeful way with movement and words, he induced a nervousness amongst pupils who weren’t taught by him. You’ve probably had teachers like that? They have a bit of a reputation for being fierce, but if you’re lucky enough to be in their class, it turns out to be a case of bark worse than bite? Ross Laugher was like that to me. It wasn’t that he couldn’t be strict – he was – but he was fair, and you knew where the lines were.

Bark? No!

He encouraged questions, looking up answers, reading, using the library, map making, experimentation, responsibility, common sense and using your senses. I don’t remember seeing him laugh or having a sense of humour, at least not with students, but he praised enthusiasm and effort.

Bark? Yes!

Friday afternoons in the upper elementary school were devoted to clubs. You could choose from (or were assigned based on seniority and if you had previously attended or not) cookery, clay, puppets (yikes, too scary, no thanks), bird club, needlework, painting, drama, music, model making and likely many others I’ve forgotten. Mr. Laugher ran the bird club and grade 5 me did not want to be there. It was bad enough thinking about the 50:50 possibility of being in his class for grade 6, so why run into him any earlier? For the record, in grade 6 I wanted to be in Mr. Lemaire’s class. He taught music, had that early 1970s rock band hair, flared trousers and no scary gold glasses. Like, cool, man.

Another favourite

Anyway, the education gods knew best, and I got Mr. Laugher in grade 6 and bird club not puppets the back end of grade 5. Bird club? Nooooo, I thought, that’s too square, man…We would go on walks through the school grounds, peering in hedgerows and up at trees, trying to spot nests, scaring birds off before we could identify them, then sitting with binoculars hoping the scared birds would return. We also looked for tracks, put up bird houses and filled feeders. Back in class, we were encouraged to draw maps to include what we’d discovered, and use reference books to identify what we thought we’d seen, then draw and/or paint any bird that we liked. (I was always rather taken by the storm petrel. Yup, I’d also like to know why…) For homework, we were encouraged to keep a bird spotting diary. Homework? For a school club?! Like, no, man…

Bird club

I would never have chosen bird club – in my young and shallow world view, Mr. Laugher would not be mistaken for my real role models, you know, a rock god or footballer – but it turned out it was all a good fit. Superstar sports and music ambitions aside, I was already enthused by maps, and had that odd childhood love of identifying and categorizing anything from cars and planes, to tanks and trains, so bird club made a kind of sense.

I even did the homework, making maps of our backyard and noting tracks and bird sightings. Robins, thrushes and sparrows mostly. Nope, no storm petrel. As we’re all enjoying these tales from the distant past, shall we add a few more details as I remember them of childhood me?

“Is he still talking about himself? I can’t bear to watch or listen…”

Outside of school clubs, I collected football stickers, had a brief flirtation with stamp collecting, was far too keen on old WWII movies, loved Viking, Greek and Roman myths and legends, anything Arthurian (reading this now, how did I not end up some kind of swivel-eyed right leaning loon?), tales of Robin Hood (phew, looks like I also had a leaning to the left and concern for fair redistribution of wealth from the 1%) and also spent time frequently modifying and falling off modified bicycles. I never enjoyed train-spotting, because that was for nerds. Yes, I know what some of the sentences before that describe, but c’mon, there are degrees of nerd…(Oh, ok, I might have been train-spotting once or twice with friends, and I might have enjoyed it. But we’ll keep that quiet?)

Misty, slightly faded

And once again back to Mr. Laugher. He opened my eyes to the natural world in my own backyard, school yard and neighborhood. He helped me see the small natural wonders and start to understand how they are actually rather large. He wasn’t the first or only person to do this. Parents and grandparents also encouraged a love of learning and sense of curiosity, and any number of family, friends and colleagues have also done so since. But as I said at the top, it was Ross Laugher who popped into my head this morning. And here we are, many years later, me the bearded teacher, sometimes requiring glasses, and corduroys in the closet. Talk about teacher influence… Wait a minute! No no, it’s ok, I don’t have a sweater vest. How could I? There’s only one Ross Laugher – an excellent teacher and role model, and in my mind, no one will ever rock a sweater vest the way he did…

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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I am a would be outdoorsman - that is if I had more time, skills and knowledge. When I can, I love being outdoors, just camping, hiking, snowboarding, xc skiing, snowshoeing, paddling a canoe or trying something new. What I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm and having a go. I'd never really survive for long out there in the wild, but I enjoy pretending I could if I had to...

15 thoughts on “Way back when…”

  1. Wow, as an old-guy birder who was into robins, sparrows, thrushes & even stormy petrels as an elementary student so many years ago, I think I could have died & gone to heaven with an opportunity such as you had with that wondrous educator, Mr. Ross Laugher. My public schooling here in NYS offered no chance for outdoor (or even indoor) extra-curricular education of the sort. If for some reason, a nerdy student, such as myself, took an interest in the “real world,” he or she had to look elsewhere. What a great experience for you, Plaidcamper, to have known this guy, and to have shared your recollections of him here!


    1. Thanks, Walt! Yes, at the time, I certainly wasn’t aware of how fortunate we were to have some of the teachers we did. It sure is good to be able to look back and see how important they were. Educators sow the seeds, and can only hope what they started bears fruit at some point in the future. An act of faith…
      As in other places, the current education landscape in the UK is blighted by underfunding and a startling (and likely disingenuous in many political quarters) lack of appreciation for how a strong education is the best investment to secure long term success in a society.
      Anyway, enough of that, you already know! I hope your week is going well!


  2. What a wonderful tribute to someone who influenced you during the childhood years. I will take time to reflect on my early positive influences, but will have a nap now. Managing pain, execise, self-care taking time, but healing well. Keep enjoying the outdoors and wonders of nature!


  3. First of all, I completely relate to having felt like “bird club” was not cool at that age, but MAN I want to be a part of a bird club now! What a cool thing they did there at the school. I grew up in Nashville, Tn, and my elementary school was a bit of an experiment at the time , in that they were trying a lot of new ideas.. Mr Wolfe and Mr Rust led an “enrichment” group called “Tennessee Naturally” that without question was the best experience of my entire K-12 experience. They took a bunch of us city kids into the woods and taught us things that couldn’t be taught in a classroom, that are by far my most favorite and memorable of that time period. This was a great post, and I enjoyed reading it and it brought fond memories for me as well!


    1. Thank you! Yes, the outdoor classroom is so often where many students come alive, at least that’s what I see in students I’ve taught and in my own (and your) experience. Seems so obvious, and more important than ever these days, so hats off to Mr. Laugher, Mr. Wolfe, and Mr. Rust!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Absolutely enjoyed reading about youngplaidcamper and the wonderful story about Mr. Laugher!! Had to laugh at the comparison of bird and music clubs and I still get upset remembering how much I wanted to play the sax, but ended up with a clarinet. As someone who was the new kid in class too many times for this introvert, school was not always my favorite place, but thankfully some fabulous coaches and fantastic English and history teachers left me with a lifelong love of learning and sports. Love the shot of the bird club and the great shots of Scout and are you sure you don’t have a sweater vest hidden in the closet?!?! We can’t talk about baseball, Everton or Tottenham, but thankfully a few favorite college football teams saved the weekend. So glad Scout’s enthusiasm for the natural world inspired this post, it was a wonderful celebration of teachers, learning and curiosity!!


    1. Young PlaidCamper was probably a difficult child and a contrary little fellow. I wonder if he ever grew up…
      Yes, we changed school a few times, and it is not always easy for an introvert. Thanks goodness for sports and few great teachers!
      Was there any football over the weekend? I forget, or wish I could. Ninety minutes of my life I’m never getting back…
      Have a good week!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent, excellent post! A few years ago, I decided that if I happened to run into any of my old teachers from high school, I would apologize to them for being such a bonehead and lackluster student, and make them aware of the influence they had on me. Perhaps it didn’t set in 40 years ago, but their teachings and concern for my education had a latent effect. In the cases that I’ve been able to do this, my old instructors seemed to be more than happy to learn of my penitence and delayed enlightenment. Like you, my youth was more concerned with the notion of “adventure,” stories from the past and the more than occasional rock God worship. Through the process of extracting my head from my posterior, I’ve learned that we are all teachers of some sort, and whether our influence is big or small matters not. Sometimes the smallest nugget imparted to an impressionable young mind can have a lifetime effect. Thanks, Adam!


    1. “Delayed enlightenment” – ! You said it better in two words than all my ramblings managed. Thank goodness for the positive latent lifetime effects we eventually pick up on, and thank goodness there are educators of all stripes willing to spend time on the apparently lacklustre – most of us are little gems when given some good guidance etc.
      Thanks, Bob, much appreciated!


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