Thursday, October 22, 2009

English Teachers

I'll be in Rhode Island this weekend, giving a workshop at the NEATE (New England Association of Teachers of English) conference. I'm really excited about this one because English teachers have totally saved my life in the past. Twice, to be precise.

The first time was in grade ten. I was fifteen and my youngest brother was three. Guess who got to look after him most of the time while mommy and daddy worked? Lucky for me (everyone, really), I adored the little pudge. So, on top of zits, plummeting self-esteem, popularity angst, and a boyfriend that I would nowadays refer to as "quasi-potentially abusive", I had a child to take care of. Enter Ms. Cute Blonde English Teacher.

Ms. CBET took a keen interest in me and my writing. She introduced me to books that truly opened doors and windows, she read my work aloud in class (while I sunk down in my seat), and she exuded warmth and kindness. I looked forward to her class all week and as soon as I walked through the doors, she lit up with that smile. I think I got all my vitamin D from her.

Then, in grade twelve. Seventeen now, and things had gone steadily downhill. I was now looking after a five-year-old who came to depend on me like a second mother. The quasi-potentially abusive boyfriend had just gotten out of juvie and was becoming more of what he'd been going in (thank goodness for friends who smack you around and say, "he's a LOOOOOSER! Dump him. NOW."). And, to top it all off, I'd just dealt with a groping teen counselor (groped a friend, not me) and a teacher who'd yelled in my face that I was making up my nationality. Enter Ms. Less Blonde, But Slightly Butchy former-English-teacher-turned-guidance-counselor.

Ms. LBBSB was like a personal guardian angel. I credit her with turning me around and putting me on  a better path when things could have gone any which way. She read my (dismal) poetry, put it all together for me and said that it was what would become my first book (she was wrong about that, but isn't that sweet?). She took photographs of me in the school yard and said they'd be my author photos (wrong about that, too, but again--how sweet is that?). And she gave me the number for an excellent, ethical teen counselor (for aforementioned friend who was groped).

Then, after I finished my MFA (this is not part of the official two "why English teachers are awesome" stories--just a bonus), another cute, blonde English teacher enthusiastically championed my application to teach at a New York City college. I wouldn't have gotten the job if it weren't for her inexhaustible support.

I think teachers often don't realize how much of a difference they can make in the lives of teens and MFA graduates looking for jobs. In my ideal world, teachers and moms would be paid the kinds of salaries pop stars and athletes make, and only the best of the best would be given the honour to work with young minds and hearts.

I can't wait to meet these English teachers on Saturday and pay it forward, even if it's just a teeny little bit.


Zetta said...

You need to write a memoir, girl! Yes, I couldn't agree more--teachers (good teachers) ROCK! And they're so grateful for the least amount of appreciation for all that they do...I'm off to write an appeal for teachers. They deserve all the love we can give them!

Neesha Meminger said...

Look who's talking. I've read your posts. Maybe we can egg one another on to write our memoirs one of these days. Oh--and, um, aren't *you* an English teacher? ;)

Zetta said...

I've already written a memoir, so it's YOUR turn now! Technically, I teach black feminist cultural criticism, but I'd proudly answer to "English teacher" any day!

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