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Teaching By His Own Rules

Instead of finding stories as most reporters do, CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman uses a highly sophisticated piece of newsgathering equipment: a dart. He asks a person on the street to throw a dart at a map to help him choose where he'll go next in search of a story. Once there, he picks a subject at random from the phone book. The premise is that "everybody has a story." He had the chance to meet teacher Jon Haynes in St. Albans, Vt., who calls himself the "birdman."


What do you ask a guy in a bird suit? Fortunately, the birdman has a life outside the suit. Here at the public high school where he's almost a senior citizen.

"Yeah, I'm 54 years old, too old to be running around like that. But yet I'm proving to them I'm not."

His antics on the court are rivaled only by his antics in the classroom where Haynes teaches 20th century English literature, but often lectures on everything but, like where do church communion wafers come from? Or which fruit floats?

Showing a jar of bananas in water, he tells his class, "These are banana slices - they're all back at the top."

Haynes explains, "We have side trips. That's what life is all about, side trips, things that you don't expect." But there's a method to his madness.

In front of a class, you could hear him say, "people want to live longer, but they never wants to get old"

A student will tell you, "It seems really strange and then eventually you realize it's all relevant to what we're reading."

The kids love him, but it's interesting. The administration has never picked him as teacher of the year.

Joe Chaput is Haynes' friend and former colleague who says, "People chosen as teacher of the year in all 50 states are people who follow the rules, know the rules, make the rules and teach by the rules. Haynes, I don't think he knows the rules."

You know most teachers take away gum. But in Haynes' class, you hear him tell a student, "Do you want to take it out of the package? Because you can just have it and start chewing."

And that's nothing. It's like a seven-course meal in here. How come they get to eat in class? Haynes' response, "I can't tell you." But then he adds, "I can wax philosophical; it's that we're a nation of eaters."

And it's that kind of reasoning that sometime makes school administrators want to wring that bird's neck.

Reg Godin, the principal, says it's not the way he'd teach a class: "I'm more in control of what happens in the classroom."

For friend Chaput, however, Haynes is "the best teacher I've ever seen."

How can you tel a good teacher? Especially, when his kids eat more than any other class, but by all accounts, read more, too. Well, as far as Haynes is concerned it comes down to two things: "We need to have teachers be great and nuts."

If America ever adopts that philosophy, here's the perfect candidate for teacher of the year.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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