If there’s anything the Nerdy Set appreciates, it’s a good education. This past Sunday was World Teacher Day, and it got me thinking about how truly life-changing teachers can be. Let’s face it, as people who liked school, we probably also had a lot of teachers we admired. I know I did. From kindergarten through college, I was lucky enough to have far more great teachers than not-so-great teachers. And a number of them truly did change my future.
There was my fifth grade teacher who just looked at me with dismay the day I showed up to school with a novelization of “9 to 5” in my hands. (Don’t ask - I was a strange child.) She called me up to the front of the class during study hall and handed me a different book, saying, “What you read actually matters. Don’t read crap.” She may have used a different word than “crap” but that’s how I remember it. To this day, every time I’m in a bookstore, I hear her words. They simultaneously make me laugh and force me to steer clear of the chick-lit section as if it were on fire.
This teacher used to press us to try new things, too. I don’t know how many other fifth graders were learning Chinese just for the hell of it in the early 80s but we were. I used to wonder why we were bothering with a language we’d never be able to master and would likely soon forget, but years later, I thought, “Yeah, but why not?” It was my first venture into learning something just for the joy of discovery.
In high school, I had two pedagogical heroes. The first was my creative writing teacher who introduced me to contemporary literature after years of thinking that writers all wrote like Dickens or James – scads and scads of clauses, hundred page descriptions of biscuits. He opened my eyes, introducing our class to Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Flannery O’Connor and others. He taught us how to pull apart a story, examine it in all its disjointed glory and figure out how to put together our own narratives. He encouraged us and never made us feel like we were just high school kids making up stories. In his class, we were all serious writers doing serious work – he gave us dignity and in turn, that gave us drive.
My other hero was my Latin teacher. A true eccentric, this guy used to climb onto his desk and yell at us in Greek whenever we misbehaved…until we reminded him this was a Latin class. He made us laugh and incorporated every trick in the book to get us to learn. Believe it or not, playing Jeopardy with categories like “How Your Classmate Tiffany Relates To Rome” actually helped me understand the difference between accusative and ablative. (I just like to say the word “ablative.”) And I’ll never forget the day he got into a truly Dada-esque argument with a student over the correct pronunciation of the word “urbs,” which ended with both of them shouting it at each other as loud as they could until our chain-smoking teacher’s diminished lung capacity forced him to raise the white flag. For all the hijinks, he took learning seriously and he took us seriously. You never doubted for a second that this man cared about what he was teaching you and more importantly, cared about you as a person…even when you had pizzas sent to his class and shouted “urbs” at him. What more could any student ask?
Who were some of your favorite teachers? Let’s give them all a little recognition even if it’s just a shout-out in the blogosphere. Beats that tired ol’ apple on the desk thing...