Writober: Class is in Session
A coworker was telling me the other day that a teacher in her child’s elementary school was her high school science teacher. Because I am now old, my first thought, and what I said to her was, “Oh, wow. She must have been young when she taught you!”
She thought about it and then nodded, “Yes, she was actually.” That sent us down a short path of trying to figure how many teachers we remembered. We each decided that of all the teachers we’d had through the years, we could only remember a small handful.
So here is my list:
- The teacher in El Salvador who invited my brother and I to her dog’s birthday party. Yes, party. There were other four legged guests and a piñata that consisted of raw meat on a plate that was pulled up and down on a rope as the dogs jumped around, trying to grab it. Don’t ask me what I learned from her in school. The lesson outside of it is much more important. Parties can be for anyone and anything for any reason. If that isn’t a life lesson, I don’t know what is.
- Mrs. Houser, who was visibly pregnant for much of 4th grade and who ended each of our days by reading to us. James and the Giant Peach. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I don’t remember if the other kids listened as intently as I did but, oh, did I love those afternoons.
- The substitute teacher who took Mrs. Houser’s place when she went on maternity leave. The teacher who, as punishment, would make you squat, put your arms out and then she’d add several heavy books. You had to hold this position for endless minutes.
- The history teacher in 7th grade who had had polio as a child so his left arm was always in a sling. In his right hand he always carried a long wooden stick that he used to point to things on the chalkboard. Or, if he felt you weren’t paying attention, he’d slam onto the desk. I never heard of him accidentally hitting anyone with it. Which is good, because he was funny and I really liked him. The last week of school he would put a big tall globe on a desk and tell us as long as our heads didn’t pass the top of the globe, we would go anywhere in class and hang out with our friends. Oh, and he taught us how to take better notes. A lesson I still use to this day.
- The 9th grade English teacher who pulled me out into the hallway to tell me I was talking too much and that I had to let the other students have a turn at answering her questions. I suppose I should be glad she told me that in the hallway. At the time I was just hurt. Hurt enough that days later when she got tired of none of the other students actually engaging with her, I looked away and said nothing when she looked my way, wanting me to respond.
- The 11th grade English teacher who didn’t like my writing. The teacher who, I’m embarrassed to say, the entire class banded together to bully until she just stopped coming to work one day. Teenagers are assholes.
- The 12th grade French 5 AP Literature teacher who had to be sent to a crash course over the summer to learn how to teach French 5 AP Literature. The crash course didn’t take. By the end of the year, only 7 of us remained in the class - 5 because we couldn’t change our schedules and 2 who had to stay in the room but were allowed to treat the time as a study hall. That couldn’t have been fun for her.
- The 12th grade civics teacher who gave me an A for the year even though I had basically tanked the 4th quarter. “But,” I said when he told me, “I didn’t earn it.” “It’s clear you were going through something,” he said. “And you are more than capable of it. So that’s the grade you deserve.” Life lesson - some people care even when you don’t say a single thing. I tracked him down a couple of years ago and sent him a long thank you for that gift. He told me he shared my message with his family and that they all were touched by my words. If I’m ever in Boston, I’m supposed to look him up.
- The creative writing professor in college who gave me an A for the year and wrote me a note to say I should be a writer. I had illusions back then of maybe one day trying to write fiction professionally. But it was just nice to know someone thought I was adept at stringing words together. I don’t write fiction every day but I craft some nice emails and memos. And I can edit like, well, I’m being paid for it, which I am, so, you know, same thing. 😊
And there we have it. There are a few more but the above are the ones that I think about most often - some with fondness, a couple with regret. Except for the horrid woman in 4th grade, I’m sure they all were doing their best.