Sarah Cole shares how a biology class helped teach her that the study of life continues every day.
Richard Bach wrote, “One school is finished, and the time has come for another to begin.” I remember growing up hearing stories about the most dreaded educator around, the infamous Coach Sprinkle. Everyone in my small, Alabama town had taken his biology course at some point during their academic career. He had been with the school system since the 70s. My older sister tried to warn me of his way, claiming he was the toughest teacher at Demopolis High School. Everyone knew Coach Sprinkle. They all said the same thing. So, when I stepped into his classroom on the first day of high school, I couldn’t help but fear the man.
He was short in stature with ice blue eyes that sat behind a pair of big-rimmed Jerry Garcia-style glasses. His eyes were deep and distressed, yet genial. His hands sat thick and callused with sun spots from his afternoons spent mowing the ball fields around town. For some reason, I always imagined him as a turtle. There was something about his shape that was so reminiscent with his broad back and narrow, squared face. Or maybe it was his gentle wisdom. Perhaps it was a little of both.
“What is biology?” He wrote it in green Expo across the top of the whiteboard, and then asked the simple question out loud in his raspy, energetic voice. He asked the same question every year on the first day of class. What is biology? When no one responded, he proceeded to write his preferred answer. Biology is the study of life. That sentence remained on the whiteboard until the very last day of class.
Coach Sprinkle lived up to the rumors. He was tough, intimidating, and profound. He was also witty, and enjoyed reminding students of their duties. One of my classmates refused to stop talking during a lecture, so Coach Sprinkle walked over to the window, popped open the pane, and then asked the student to move his desk outside where he was required to sit for the remainder of class. Other times he would slap his tan yardstick that he kept by his side across his desk just to grab attention. He always found a way to make class entertaining, yet terrifying at the same time. Tough love.
He forced us to dissect frogs, sheep brains, and eyeballs, as well as a cat. Most of us were disgusted throughout the process, and Coach Sprinkle found our distress entertaining. One day during lab, he dug into one of the fermented cats, pulled out its intestine, chopped it in half, and then proceeded to squeeze the feces out onto the table with a raspy laugh. We were required to use the correct scientific description, feces. Never poop, turd, or any other word. The realness of that image will forever be ingrained in my memory.
There was more to Coach Sprinkle than just his lectures and labs, though. He dedicated his course to the study of life in all facets; we learned more than what was just outlined in our science textbooks. Halfway through the course, he pulled out a short novel, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. He started it the same time each year, reading a few pages here and there during class. But he would never finish the book, always stopping at the end of part two. He never discussed the meaning, why he chose to read that particular novel to his classes, or why he never finished. Like the rest of the study of life, it was left up to us to figure it all out.
SARAH COLE currently lives in Huntsville, Alabama, working as a photojournalist who documents, writes, and creates content for Alabama Media Group. She holds a Master’s degree in Community Journalism from the University of Alabama. Her work has been featured in Alabama Heritage, The Sucarnochee Review, & AL.com. Follow her on Twitter @ssssarahcole.
Post originally published on 5/5/15