Roland Muller

7 Jun

You get two biological parents in this life. If you’re lucky, you get to have at least two people (though not necessarily the two people whose genes you share) conduct you through the first eighteen or so years of your time on this planet, using that time to help you create a map that will, hopefully, allow you to spend the rest of your days navigating this confusing world.

But it’s not just parents who participate in this amateur cartography, is it? I mean, they do the majority of the work, and maybe they do the toughest work, but they don’t get all the credit, do they? So many people contribute to helping any given child flesh out their map, adding towns, rivers, and signs that say “Here There Be Dragons.” Children chart the world with their parents, yes, but also with their aunts and uncles, their grandparents, their babysitters, their neighbours, the old Korean couple who own the convenience store on the corner, that nice crossing guard who can’t speak English, and most of all, and especially, their teachers. Their dozens of daycare teachers, primary and high school teachers, and even college professors, all those people who work tirelessly fill their heads with words, numbers, new thoughts and hopefully a little bit of common sense.

Not all of your teachers will be good ones – for some of them, the best that you can say is that you only had to spend one semester in their class. A great teacher, though? A great teacher is worth their weight in gold.

A great teacher will stick with you for the rest of your life.

Roland Muller was a great teacher, maybe even the best. I was in the last ninth grade English class that he taught before retiring, and I will forever be thankful for whatever stars aligned to place me there, in the second row of that dingy first floor classroom at Eastwood Collegiate Institute, during the first period of day two (we had a day one, day two schedule instead of being semestered).

Mr. Muller was old-fashioned. He was impatient with, sometimes even downright uninterested in, newer teaching methods. He taught us English grammar, even though it wasn’t on the curriculum. When we misbehaved, he had us write lines. In fact, I still have the lines that he made me write – fifty of them – because I talked too much. They read, “henceforth, I will not babble incessantly in class.” I don’t know why I kept them, except that I thought that it was sort of nice and funny that I’d had to write lines. Like a character in one of the English boarding school books that I loved so much.


In spite of all of this, or maybe even partly because of it, we loved Mr. Muller. He was, hands down, the all-time favourite teacher of the majority of the students in his classes. And you know what? He loved us in return. I’ve rarely had a teacher who cared so damn much about his students. And I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a teacher who put in so much extracurricular time, both with academic issues and with any and everything to do with the Arts Package that he helped found in 1988.

And sure, sometimes his teaching methods were a little stuffy for some of us, but holy cats did that man ever love reading, writing and the arts. His classes fascinated and captivated us, and he found ways to make even the dullest subjects interesting. He was funny, too, sarcastic and snarky in the best way possible. And he was kind. And attentive. And interested in us, this scraggly pack of know-it-all fourteen year olds.

I was his pet that year. I don’t know why or how he took a liking to me, but he did, and I’m forever grateful for that fact. He was the first person who told me that I was going to be a writer, a thought that I found flattering but unlikely. When the school organized a special enrichment “Mystery Writing Tour” field trip for English students, he chose me to be one of only three ninth grade students invited along. When I was having a hard day, he always had a smile or a hug for me. During what was the first full school year after my father had left, he was kind of, sort of, maybe a little bit like a father to me, and I will always, always be grateful for that. I’m grateful for everything.

14-year-old me on the English enrichment "Mystery Writing Tour."

14-year-old me on the English enrichment “Mystery Writing Tour.”

I saw Mr. Muller just a little over a month ago at the 25th anniversary of the Arts Package. He didn’t recognize me right away (which led to me yelling, BUT MIS-TER MU-LLER, I WAS YOUR FAVOURITE STUDENT, I WAS YOUR PET), a fact that honestly isn’t surprising considering how many students he’d had over the years. It wasn’t long, though, before he’d figured out who I was. Once he realized that I was the girl he’d once spent a year referring to as Little Orphan Annie, I got this huge, irrepressible grin on my face. He grinned right back at me then turned to Matt and said, “See that smile? That smile is how she wrapped me around her little finger. How could I ever forget that?”

I only spoke to him briefly at the anniversary, partly because there were so many other former students who wanted to reconnect with him, and partly because I had some very important drinking and dancing to do. Although I hadn’t seen him in well over ten years, I figured that there would be other times, other places when we would be able to catch up or reminisce. I always think that I will have other chances; I never, ever think that anything is happening for the last time.

I wish I’d known that it was the last time.

Rest in peace, Mr. Muller. I know that I probably wasn’t an especially amazing kid to have in your class, and I’m sure that I don’t really stand out among all the other students you had, and I know that I talked waaaay too much. I’m not by any means your brightest or most successful or most talented former student. I wish that I had more to show for the year that I spent in your class, because that would give some kind of indication of how very much of an impact you had on my life. I guess the most that I can say is that now, sixteen years after I had you as a teacher, I’m finally coming around to what you knew all along: I’m a writer.

And if I’m at all a good writer, and if my words have any kind of impact in this world, a large part of that is because of you.

So thank you.

Roland Muller giving a speech at the Eastwood Arts Package Reunion, April 2013

Roland Muller giving a speech at the Eastwood Arts Package Reunion, April 2013

20 Responses to “Roland Muller”

  1. mieprowan June 7, 2013 at 3:05 am #

    My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Morganthaler, who was understanding enough to not make me get up front of the class and give book reports, since she could sense my social phobias and also knew that I read constantly.

    She also was responsible for helping me learn my multiplication tables. They were oddly difficult for me. Later on I waltzed effortlessly through algebra.

    She also dyed her hair green for the school Halloween fair. This was well before this was a thing.

    Mrs. Morganthaler is doubtless long passed from this mortal realm, but not from my memory.

  2. paulineking2013 June 7, 2013 at 3:25 am #

    A beautifully written [ 🙂 ] and moving tribute – thank you for sharing this. As a retired teacher I ca only hope that one day one of my old pupils might say something half as nice!

  3. Hannah Celinski June 7, 2013 at 3:39 am #

    Thank you for these kind words. In a way, we are book ends, as I was in the first year of grade 9 arts package kids he taught, and you the last. Your words brought tears to my eyes. He was an incredible educator, a wonderful spirit, and had a heart of solid gold. You speak for so many, and you captured him beautifully.

  4. ramblinginthecity June 7, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    so love this post! prompts me to think back on the teachers that left huge impressions on me. strangely, they weren’t that many…I studied mostly in convent schools in India. Read Stuffy in all caps! but they were fun days nevertheless and we took disciplining and irrationalism with a pich of salt and lots of mirth!

  5. Writer / Mummy June 7, 2013 at 6:51 am #

    A lovely post. There are only one or two teachers that stick in my mind. My favourite was Miss Corby, my English teacher, who introduced me to fantasy, particularly Terry Pratchett and David Eddings, and for that I am eternally grateful.

  6. Ms. Roberts June 7, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Wow, thanks for posting this. I had a teacher in sixth grade, Mrs, Rice, who believed in me too. While in sixth grade, my grades got better and I became interested in science. So she helped me get signed up for a nature/science camp which st the tone now for me. Teachers can really influence students lives.

  7. NS June 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    That is the sort of teachers our children desperately need these days…This is the impact teachers are meant to have on their students…May his soul rest in peace…

  8. thepsychologyintern June 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    This was beautiful! I had a chemistry teacher senior year of high school who I grew really attached to. He passed away unexpectedly of cancer two years ago. I can completely understand what you are going through. May he rest in peace.

  9. mfennvt June 7, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    I’m sorry for your loss. He sounds like a wonderful man.

  10. Susan B Raven June 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    A lovely tribute. I love that you saved your lines. I think I’d frame that!

  11. iRuniBreathe June 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    I had a very similar teacher who earned much respect from students and colleagues alike. He also made us write lines. Depending on how much math homework you had failed to do determined how many stanzas you did. His choice of dictation was the looong poem by Samuel Coleridge “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” I can’t hear those words without remembering my teacher.

  12. CCardoza June 7, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Well written tribute! RIP Mr. Muller

    • Peter Freeman June 8, 2013 at 5:39 am #

      I loved this post. So well written and so from your heart. It makes me wish I knew him. Thank you.

  13. Valentine Logar June 8, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    This was a lovely and moving tribute. Thank you for writing it. I only wish more of us would remember the educators we had who helped us to learn, moved us and uplifted us. I was fortunate, I had several.

  14. mommyincolor June 9, 2013 at 4:27 am #

    My seventh grade Writing teacher inspired me to keep writing. He made us keep personal journals and he woukd only check them to make sure we were writing something…anything. I took it as an opportunity to vent and one day he wrote a comment in my journal. It was simple but that was all it took to keep me writing. He said “Wow,your a great little writer”. Thank you,Mr. Alder.

  15. wisewebwoman June 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    Gorgeous tribute, these kind of teachers were few and far between. My English teacher encouraged me in so many ways, put me in charge of the school magazine, had me enter writing competitions and published my work in small press offerings. I will never forget her. I wish more teachers were like your beloved Mr. Fuller.

  16. sharonholly June 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    That was such a lovely tribute. You’ve inspired me to write about one of my favourite elementary school teachers, Ms. Meronek (who was also, awesomely, our school librarian).

  17. zellabea June 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    I have thinking about Mr. Muller since you posted this. I am in the middle of Graduation Season with my 18 year old, so I have been thinking a lot about schooling and teachers and especially those who walk invisibly by our sides long after we leave their classrooms. One of my favorites was a colorful curmudgeon of a 6th grade teacher. When my mother died unexpectedly 2 years ago, he was the first person to show up at the cocktail party we threw the night before her funeral. He died a year ago. I was immediately mad at myself for not keeping up with my reading of his blog. This line of yours resonates: “I only spoke to him briefly at the anniversary, partly because there were so many other former students who wanted to reconnect with him, and partly because I had some very important drinking and dancing to do. ” Thank you for sharing Mr. Muller.


  1. RIP Mr. Muller | SARcasm - June 7, 2013

    […] not much I can say about Roland Muller that my friend Anne at the Belle Jar Blog didn’t say here. But as Rolland Muller passed away last night at the age of 70 years old, and I say goodbye to one […]

  2. 2013 In Review: Part 1 | The Belle Jar - December 29, 2013

    […] One of my favourite high school teachers, Roland Muller, died and his death was so much harder on me than I’d imagined it would be. […]

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