One Good Teacher

When I was a sophomore in high school–I attended St. Vincent’s Academy, an all-girl Catholic school in Savannah that’s still there today–I grew about ten inches that year.

220px-AbsalomAbsalomNot literally, but it felt that stupendous. See, I had a teacher, Sister Michael Mary, who blew open my mind with books like All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren and William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

William Faulkner. Absalom, Absalom! It was the tenth grade, y’all, and we were a pretty sheltered group of girls back then. Not to mention that Sister Michael Mary had to explain nearly every page to us. That entire year, we read brain-busting novel after novel, each one painstakingly explained to us by this nun who had such a passion for literature. It was so hard and frustrating and confusing and yet, it was exhilarating, too.

Years later, lots of years later, I saw Sister Michael Mary at my Tybee Island church, but we recognized each other immediately and spoke of high school days. I told her what I most remembered was Faulkner and Absalom, Absalom! and she burst into laughter. What was she thinking, she said, having us read Faulkner?! She was new to teaching, she said, and had a lot to learn about tenth grade English classes. I said how much I’d loved her class and all those novels.

What I didn’t say–and wished that I had–was that she made a difference in my life. That she broadened my mind and introduced ideas and themes that were completely new to me. That she challenged me, challenged all of us to think of a world beyond our 15-year-old boundaries. Even if she had to explain every single page to us.

Though even with all that explaining, she managed to make me, and I suspect most of us in that class, feel capable and smart and up to the challenge of grasping most of what these literary giants had written so eloquently. And when I moved on, I wasn’t the same girl. I was someone who believed she was more than she’d dreamed.

The best teachers are like that, I think. It’s not so much the facts or figures you learn–honestly, I remember very few of the details of Absalom, Absalom! –it’s learning that you can do more, think more, be more than you ever imagined. A good teacher’s influence far surpasses the walls of any classroom ….

You know what? I’m about to get myself choked up here. So I will just say that I shared another teacher’s influence over at The Muffin today in Here’s to You, Mrs. Robeson and I hope you have time to read another personal story. It’s more about teaching, not so much about writing. But it did involve a letter so I think that counts. And I hope you had or have a teacher that you can count as a blessing in your life.

Everyone needs at least one good teacher.

4 thoughts on “One Good Teacher

  1. Cathy–Mrs. Wright taught me Dante’s “Inferno” and “Beowulf” (I hope I spelled that correctly), and I still remember the rigor… and I still appreciate it. (By the way, I loved your “Muffin” post.)

  2. Your Muffin post was delightful reading. I had a college teacher who made a huge difference in my writing life. Recently i wrote to tell him and wish him a happy 85th birthday. Amazing the long reach of a teacher who strong arms your mind and heart.

  3. Ah, you’ve made me think of my own beloved Joan Mountford. Mrs. M. was a huge influence on me and countless other high school students. I dreamed of my own kids having a teacher even half as wonderful as Mrs. M. They didn’t, and after they didn’t, I became even more acutely aware of how truly fortunate I had been. You were also fortunate with your Sister Michael Mary.

    And now I’m off to The Muffin!

  4. Wow, sister Micheal Mary sounds amazing! I love that she took in so much to inspire and truly inspire you ladies. I totally agree that’s what makes a teacher great.

    I’m so sorry you didn’t get to tell her, but I have a feeling when you talked to her that day, she knew💙

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