On Teachers

So, it’s been almost a year since I last posted. This is my blog so I owe nobody an explanation but suffice to say that life got in the way. Anyway, let’s see how long I can keep this up. Because I’m still a little rusty I’m going to do what most Millennials do best – use The Simpsons to illustrate my points.

Today I want to talk about teachers. I could tell you that they’re overworked and underpaid, but that’s pointless unless I can explain how valuable they are.

Teachers are indispensable, and we are losing them in droves due to the stress and sheer exhausting nature of the job. But if it weren’t for teachers I definitely wouldn’t be a writer.

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When I was in grade one, around seven years old, my class teacher was Mrs. Green. She was a jolly, plump woman with kind eyes, an easy laugh and a consuming love of literature. Every few days she would give us creative writing time in the afternoons when we could just sit and write whatever we wanted. While she could never quite get me to spell properly, she did germinate my love for writing stories. During a parent-teacher interview, she told my mother that my brain goes faster than my hand and that I would often skip words. This is still true unless I’m typing. But she encouraged me to keep putting pen to paper, even though my spelling was wrong, words were skipped and my penmanship was awful. This was the year that I realised I wanted to be a writer.

When I was in grade six, my teacher was Mrs. Higgins. She once pulled me aside and told me that the short story I had written for a class assignment had captivated her. Do you know how big that is to hear for a kid who actually enjoys school? I wasn’t a cool kid, I actually liked learning stuff and the other kids picked on me because I was an insufferable know-it-all, but when a teacher tells a twelve-year-old that they actually enjoyed something they wrote nothing else really mattered. It made me even more determined to write better stories.

When I was in year seven my English teacher was Ms. O’Meara. Miss O’Meara was over-enthusiastic, to say the least. We were sophisticated high-schoolers now! We didn’t want some constantly cheerful middle-aged woman trying to get us psyched up to read Romeo and Juliet. I’m ashamed to say that I mocked her along with my classmates during lunchtime bitching sessions, even though she read some of my woeful Harry Potter fan fiction and told me to keep going with it. I was embarrassed to admit to my classmates that I actually liked Ms. O’Meara, and I especially liked that she set creative writing assignments.

When I was in year eight my English teacher was Ms. VanMaanen. She was the first person to properly ram home how effective allegory could be – we were studying Orwell’s Animal Farm that year, and it blew my fourteen-year-old mind.

My year twelve English Literature teacher was Mr. Lawrence. He was a cool, laid-back guy with shaggy salt-and-pepper hair…and he never gave me an A. I knew that my essays were good, but he thought they could be better. He was right. He taught me to work at my writing, not to just rely on my “way with words”, for want of a better term.

It wasn’t just English teachers who nurtured my love for writing. In year twelve I studied Studio Art, with a focus on Photography. My teacher was Ms. Dowley, and she was one of those rare teachers that commanded such a deep respect in her students that we just couldn’t bear to disappoint her. When I told her that I wanted to create a photo series using Lego characters and turn it into a wall-hanging sized comic page, she told me to read Sandman by Neil Gaiman. This catalyst formed an interest in graphic novels that not only opened up a whole new world of storytelling but also gave me something in common with my current partner. We’ve had eight happy years of comic book buying sprees and Sunday mornings reading Batman in bed with cups of tea or coffee, all because Ms. Dowley suggested I try reading a medium which I didn’t realise could also be for adults.

This instance also led me to fall in love with the writing of Neil Gaiman, a person who inspires me daily. For those of you who haven’t read his work, the best way to describe Gaiman’s fantasy style is…dreamlike. The in one of the ten issues of Sandman Trade Paperbacks (I forget which one) there’s an introduction (I forget by whom) which describes Gaiman as living in that place where you’re not quite asleep but not yet awake either. His work is magical, and if I could be a tenth of the creator he is I’d be incredibly proud of my work. I may never have found him if it weren’t for Ms. Dowley.

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Gaiman is Edison to my Homer. Even the chart is accurate.

 

Finally, in year twelve my Drama teacher was Ms. Connolly. She was another one of those teachers who believed in you so fervently that you didn’t want to disappoint her. I’m still haunted by the look on her face from the one occasion when I neglected to hand in homework. One of the requirements for VCE drama was to devise and perform a seven-minute solo performance. Seven minutes may seem like a long time to perform in front of a panel of examiners but given the litany of things that needed to be included we soon found that the issue was trimming our pieces down to seven minutes, not stretching them out. A day or two before our assessment she and I were having a chat, and she told me that the examiners would be able to tell that my piece was “very clever and well-written.” I realise now that was her kindest way of saying that I was a crummy actor but I could definitely write. I’m pretty sure I got a B+ on that exam.

This is all a round-about way of saying that if it weren’t for teachers I wouldn’t be a writer. I didn’t even know it was an option until I was seven, and I had plenty of time to get disenfranchised with education, especially given how much I was bullied. I was a very lucky kid to encounter so many teachers who took an interest in my ambitions, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without them.

I’m not published yet. I hope one day that will change. When it does, I would love for them to attend my book launch so I can thank them in person. A lofty, fantastic dream, maybe, but these are the people who taught me how to dream in the first place.

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