I had a teacher once. The kind that teaches you by modeling your polar opposite.
We were reading a Keats poem. Someone offered their interpretation.
“No,” she said, and informed us how to understand the poem. I furrowed my brow. Now, I was no huge fan of poetry at the time, but I felt the whole point of English class in general was that any thinking person could grab a B so long as they could defend their opinion.
So, naturally, I pushed the point. She cut me off.
“Keats is dead,” she snapped.
So are most people in history, but I wasn’t convinced she’d made any point at all, leave alone a relevant one to understanding the poem. But before I’d even opened my mouth to argue, she loomed above me and gave her final word.
“My intepretation is the one that matters. I’m telling you what Keats meant.”
Yowza. This was essentially the end of my high grade in English.
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
~ Mark Twain (autodidact)
I had had another English teacher a few years earlier. This woman was slightly wild. She was prone to doing things like tearing up a student’s paper if she felt it was lacking in respect and effort. In front of the entire class. And then jumping on its tatters. When we took exams, she’d turn some classical music way up high and then walk out, as if in that way inspiration or enlightenment would seep into our shriveled brains. Day in and day out, she frenetically stared at us during class with a mad intensity that seemed ill-matched with our leaden prose and feeble grasp of literature.
In a word, she was interesting if somewhat frightening.
Then one day she got my goat too. She had us debating opposite sides of various arguments. The topic was shyness. Everything was going normally, and then she zoomed into banshee mode, insisting suddenly that shy people were selfish people, refusing to share of themselves with the world. I was a shy person at the time, and felt unfairly skewered.
I burned with embarrassment as I struggled to argue in as respectful a way as possible. She clawed into my argument and I twisted to keep standing, but stand I did. I left class feeling angry but validated. I really hated her that day. I know probably no-one else in my class would remember that day, but it was a pretty big one for me. She’d made me so mad.
The time would come when I’d have to change my mind. No more could I find her simply intimidating or single-minded. Nuance crept in where a teenager knew not to tread.
No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
~ Alice Walker
New York is a brash city, and if you want to taste all it has to offer, you gotta have the gumption to go for it. I walked into a gyro joint one cold night two years ago, escaping the cold with a friend. We squeezed into a tiny booth, one of two tables in the warm haven. Something smelled delicious. I turned around; the two guys behind us were just sitting down with a gyro. Looked good, but was it worth it?
“Hey,” I nodded. “Is that good?”
The one nearer me nodded, his mouth full. Then he pushed his plate toward me. “Want a bite?”
“Thanks!” I said, and I partook.
Can you believe that? I seriously leaned over the booth and took a huge bite out of this guy’s meal.
Is my point clear, odd though it be?
That day, so long ago, in that South African classroom with my intimidating and bizarre English teacher, I somehow stopped being painfully shy.
Of course, my partner point is that English teachers are nutters. And then there’s my tertiary point.
Who needs to make up characters when one’s got teachers?