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Friday, January 9, 2009

English Teacher Shout-Out

Today's topic boys and girls-English teachers. We all had them, some of us loved some of them, some of them were scary monstrosities from other worlds, (I'm not kidding, I think my 5th grade teacher really was an alien), and some were forgotten in the summers between verb conjugation and grammatically correct sentence structure.

I'm not sure if my love for English class has biased me, or if I've had a long string of really awesome English teachers. I truly thing it's the latter, but I could be mistaken I guess; it has happened before, actually. ;)

So today, as I prepare for a month without my husband's help with the kids, which means a month with very little actual writing being done, I thought I should give a shout out to those who, for one reason or another, made a serious impact on my life.

DISCLAIMER: This might be really boring for you guys to read, since you don't know these people, but I've been thinking about it for a long time, and I think credit is long over due, so here it is.

Mrs. Cartier- 1st grade- The first teacher who fostered my already evident love of words. She introduced me to Christina Rossetti, and began my life-long affair with poetry. Looking back, I realize what a non-conformist she was, a big deal at the private Christian school I went to, and what a truly amazing person she was. Mrs. Cartier wanted all of us to be exposed to the world, and the different people, and cultures in it. Pretty deep stuff for a bunch of 1st graders. She brought in seaweed for us to eat, years before I had any idea what sushi was. When we asked questions, she answered. An amazing woman, who I've not forgotten once in all the years since.

Ms. Lynch-4th grade- Ahhh, Ms. Lynch. She was young, beautiful, patient, with just enough temper to keep the boys in line. I adored her. She praised my reading abilities, already tested at the college level, without making me feel pressured. She gave me my first copy of The Secret Garden, my all-time favorite book, then and now; and while I've got a few more copies of it since then, the paperback she gave me still sits on my bookshelf, worn and well-loved. She told me to read anything I wanted, and had that kind of incandescent faith only teacher of the young can have: I was able to do anything after her, I was young and untouched by the world, my future was wide open. When I told her I wanted to be a writer, she said "Okay, then you will." I miss those years of innocent dreaming, when I really could do anything.

Mrs. Magan-5th grade-Even though I didn't like her, and often daydreamed during class about what planet had sent her here in disguise, she was the first adult in my entire life to actually discipline me. I quit doing homework that year, I don't remember why, but she put me in after school detention more times than I can remember. I was the only girl in the 5th grade who had ASD, come to think of it. The beginning of my bad ass years, I'm sure.

Mrs. Barnes-7th grade-I was a new girl in a new school in a small town. The type of town where the kids have all been in school together since daycare. They had so much history I was destined to be the outsider for the remainder of my school career, something I always felt keenly over the years. Mrs. Barnes was a firecracker, quick witted, smart, funny, and an iron will to keep those 14 year old hormonal boys in line. They loved her too, despite their attitudes; we all did. She pushed for more, she wouldn't take less than she knew we could give, and she made me feel like I actually belonged somewhere on the small island I was forced to inhabit.

Mrs. Draughn-summer school-I spent a few summers in summer school, I think three total, although it might be four. I was too smart to be there, and too lazy to do the work that I should during the year to prevent having to go. Mrs. Draughn appreciated that, and gave me work to do that was interesting, and work I enjoyed doing. She was my first experience with interpretive writing-she put a picture up on the board and said, "Write me a story. Tell me what's going on." I was hooked. Oh, and one other small, itty bitty thing. She was the woman who introduced my to Stephen King and the Dark Tower. A ways past the "appropriate" reading level for my age, but she understood that books and I had a special relationship. Looking at my bookshelf now, with every book Stephen King has written filling it's shelves, I wish I could have told her thank you. But she probably already knew.

Mrs. McRae-high school- I was lucky enough to be in her class twice, my freshman and sophmore years. Not because I failed, but she taught a few different classes to different grade levels. There are so many things I would say about her, but I'm trying to be concise, so I won't. She was an amazing person, a great teacher, and a true soul. I don't know if that makes sense, but it feels right. She took my enormous love of all things wordy and tamed it into something resembling a frame, gave some method to my madness. She also worked with me, something more teachers should do. She understood that I wasn't going to do the final project because it was boring to me, something easy that I could/should have done in one night, something I would ignore because it didn't interest me. So she gave me an alternate project: To read Great Expectations and write her a paper on it, breaking down the story line chapter by chapter. While this would be the worst form of punishment for normal high school kids, I was in heaven. And as a result, I got a 98 on my final project, pushing my grade for that year high enough to keep me from summer school (again). I still have that project, and I pull it out from time to time.

Mr. Irving- junior year- He was my Creative Writing teacher, my all-time favorite class. He understood that I skipped the entire day of school, only showing up for his class in the afternoon, and he always thanked me for coming. He fostered my creativity, encouraged it, and praised all my efforts. His class was easy for me, being what I loved most, but he kept making me think, kept things fresh. He was a minor character with a lasting impact.

Last, but certainly not least, Mr. Guiley-senior year- Ah, Mr. Guiley. The type of teacher who spawns legends for years to come. My senior English teacher, and last class of the day. Another class I always made it to, though it wasn't the easiest one I had. Mr. Guiley supposedly scored a 1600 on his SAT's, something that was believable and unbelievable at the same time. He drove the oldest car in the school's parking lot, and said he was keeping it for his daughter for her first car. I think she was around 7 at the time. He only actually drove to school when it was raining, otherwise, he walked. He often had a blank expression on his face, and in the middle of a lecture, he would trail off, and stare silently at some unknown point in space, thinking about God only knows what. We would all sit, waiting, wondering, then suddenly he would give himself a little shake and start talking about something totally unrelated to his original conversation. We called them his acid flashbacks, and they were truly amazing. For example:

"Henry David Thoreau was a.........................................(60 seconds later).............................................does anyone know how much pollution LA has by cubic square inch?"

When a student would fall asleep on his desk, Mr. G would continue talking in the same tone of voice while he went to a closet and took out his 9 iron. Never pausing or raising his voice, he would line up his swing, all the while telling us about early American literature, then he would swing with all his might, hitting the underside of the desk with the golf club, producing a shocking sound. It scared those of us who were watching it happen, I can't imagine waking up to that, a golf club hitting directly under your face. And never would he stop his speech, walking to the closet to replace the club, like nothing ever happened.

We had speaker box on the wall beside the clock, where we could hear the school's announcements in the morning and afternoon. No matter what he was talking about, when the voice came out of the box, he would stop, face it, and raise his hand in salute. He would stay there until the announcements were through, and only then would he continue teaching.

He seemed erratic, dazed, slightly silly, and very smart. Despite all of his eccentricities, students loved him, and we all learned exactly what we were supposed to. I adored him and his teaching methods. I just wish we could have gotten out the secret of his SAT score though....


Ken and Carolyn Packer said...

Oh wow. That was really cool. I wish you could find each teacher and give them a copy of what you wrote. It is amazing how people really come into our lives for a purpose, And, sometimes we think we aren't effecting a single thing-we maybe shaping their entire world. LOVE the story of Mr. Guiley. I laughed out loud when I read it. You had me right there in class with you. I even smelled the scent of desks and musk. It is so amazing that reading your work takes me right to the place. I love it--thank you English Class teachers! I too, benefit from it. (P.S. I am going to share this with Misty). Brilliant!

Sweet Caroline said...

By the me say this quietly...HOT PICTURE!!!!!!!!!

What a BABE!!!

Okay. Have a good day.