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My 8th Grade Teacher
A teacher which I had as a thirteen year old not only left her footprints on my view of literature, but also writing, my aspirations for a career path, and my view of the world.
In a school of 2,000 faces, the importance of giving students the resources necessary to pass their classes, finals, and regents often overshadows true learning in terms of life skills and having a passion for a craft. Yet, through all of the white noise that is competition and the dull necessity of state mandated curriculum, I found myself in a classroom with 31 of those 2,000 nameless faces and a teacher who would make it her goal to encourage and inspire growth.
The lines and numbers which persist in other forms of learning were all blurred as this teacher in her quirky demeanor and passion for the subject, disregarded for the most part, the required structure of the class. She would often tell us how the high school curriculum differed from what she was having us do and we would all thank her as many other classes were not so lenient.
However, certain parts of her class were mandatory and that was that.
We were required on a regular basis to read for entertainment and I precisely remember her saying, “you could even read porn if that would get you motivated,” among the thundering laughter of the class. She was right. Reading is quite possibly the most valuable tool we have as humans to promote change, the development of ethics, and to find our voices.
“Remember to blog!” She called after us as we filed through the door to lunch. This was another mandatory assignment. We had to write a response to a question which she posed to us on the nightly blog and share it with the class and this is where my thinking began. Questions were fairly malleable and could basically be applied to anything, so I began to write about things which I saw in the world. For example, if I didn’t understand my parent’s point of view regarding society, I could relate it to Scout’s inability to comprehend societies view on the rights of African Americans in To Kill a Mockingbird. I was able to use these blogs to put myself into the characters on the page and further understand the world around me. Reading had a more personal connection to me now.
Ink on paper realigned itself to be a map of the world with a moral compass on each page which I followed blindly.
Lastly, we were each given a sonnet from Shakespeare to memorize and perform to the class. A 3x3 laminated sheet of roughly cut paper with Shakespeare’s words on it came to change my school career - and potentially life. ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,’ became a song.
I remember the night I decided to try to write a sonnet. I was staring at a picture of my dad that we bought at the zoo - it was one of those pictures that they take when you walk in which you can view on your way out. We never used to buy them, but for some reason on that particular day we did. The day we visited the zoo was the day before my grandparents passed away in a house fire. The last naive, unknowing day when his parents are still a phone call away was trapped in a 4x6 frame. I stared at the picture of his last day being a child - someone’s child - and saw something in his face that I don’t see anymore. I don’t know if I imagined it or wanted it to be there, but I saw something.
‘The people who watch a burning candle,’ became the first line of my sonnet - my song of the Last Day. And I wrote about my life holding that plastic encased sheet of paper, knowing that the words on the page were someone else too. Knowing that writing for enjoyment was someone else’s reading for necessity - or was it writing for necessity and reading for enjoyment.
I keep in touch with my teacher to this day, sharing my poems with her. She drives me to write more - write more personally. And that small paper with sonnet 130 on it, with folds and creases and curled up edges, is pinned on my wall, and I sometimes find the song when I can’t find my own.