Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A letter to a teacher

To my teacher

I was in your class for English, and English was the first lesson of my first day at senior school.

To start with I sat at the front because I wore my eleven year old enthusiasm right out in the open and I didn't realise that my eagerness to please might be more sensibly hidden somewhere the mean kids couldn't see it. As the school years progressed I chose a seat further back, but the enthusiasm didn't wane, and my goody-goody keenness was justified.  This was my thing, and I loved your lessons. 

You took my appetite for stories and fed it with rich, nourishing food. You introduced me to the big guns of literature in such a way that I was seduced, not overwhelmed. You tempered the giants with new voices, mixed poetry with theatre with prose and left me dizzy with delight.  You took away fear and replaced it with curiosity; you showed me that Shakespeare was funny, scary, inspiring, moving, but above all accessible. You told me that nothing was beyond my reach - that it was up to me to decide. 

You revelled in language and so did I. You made me believe that I, too, could make it work for me, and showed me how to analyse, deconstruct, understand and build marvellous things with words. You insisted we learn poems, passages and soliloquies and I remember them to this day. Walter De La Mare, Richard Kell, Wordsworth.  Lady Macbeth, Richard II, Julius Caesar. Treasures in my head forever. 

You encouraged, criticised, jollied and accepted no nonsense. More often than not your eyes were crinkled into smiles but you were stern when it was warranted. Nobody took liberties in your class, and homework was done on time. We behaved. We listened. We tried hard, and we were rewarded by generous praise given in good measure.

I loved your range of voices, from John of Gaunt strident on his deathbed, Wuthering Heights' Cathy, wild with grief, or Subtle the Alchemist, sleazy and suggestive. You strode round the room with theatrical gesture and your energy fed mine; your lessons gave me life. I read everything I could lay my hands on and stored it up carefully.

I wanted to make you proud. Your advice was heeded, your criticism accepted, your encouragement wrapped up carefully and stored away. 

On the day I picked up my exam results you held my hand for a moment. The world is your oyster, you whispered, and you smiled a wonderful smile. That was a good moment, and I wanted to build on it.

A quarter of a century later, I saw you and we chatted. You'd been gardening and you had leaves in your hair. Smaller, older, greyer, but those eyes still smiled. You remembered me. I told you that I was writing and you clutched my arm with both hands and cried, 'Oh, good!'

That, too, was a good moment.

You did it again. 

I hoped one day to hand you a signed copy of a book I'd written, but that won't happen. 

I was at your funeral a while ago. There was standing room only; the place was packed with people who held a bit of you in their hearts. 

That inspiration that you gave to me? You gave it to others; you gave it away freely, and lots of people received it. People remembered the smiling eyes, the firm-but-fair, the way you threw back your head and laughed. You had many interests and brought joy to so many people. Everybody spoke of your infectious enthusiasm, your energy and your joy. You left behind many, many people who would miss you badly, but when they think of you, they smile. 

What a legacy.

For me? You took the raw and unformed and moulded it into a something that could grow. You saw a mixture of enthusiasm and potential and gave me the tools to make something. You told me that I could do it. You made me believe it. 

What a precious thing is a good teacher. I've been blessed with a few, and they made a huge difference to me, but none as much as you. You were exceptional. You made a real difference to my life. 

I pray that my daughters might find a teacher who sees them in the way that you saw me. Thank you. 

Rest in peace. I look forward to seeing you again. 

With love and gratitude

Helen



Linking up with Ruth and Sabrina at Letters to...
This time the prompt was 'A letter to a teacher'.




6 comments:

  1. What a lovely tribute to a very special lady. I think you should share this with her family (Emma)

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  2. What a wonderful tribute. I too think you should share your letter with her family. The things you say about her and your response to her teaching are the very reasons people choose to teach.These words to your former teacher are invaluable.

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    1. Thank you, Steven. I should try and do just that. I had the privilege to say a small part of it to her the summer before she died, and for that I'm really grateful.

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  3. As an English teacher, I want this to be me. Sadly, this week it wasn't.:( Working on it. Thanks for noticing what this lady did.

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    1. Ginger if your writing is anything to go by, you are an inspiration already. From what I know from the other side of the ocean, your class is blessed to have you.

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