sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

June 21, 2005

high school teachers
posted by soe 3:26 pm

A member of the Wesleyan alumni email network (fondly known as WesChat) forwarded along a New York Times story by Thomas Friedman that talks about an innovative honor given out by Williams College in Massachusetts. [The story now costs money to read, so I won’t link to it.]

Every year at graduation, in addition to honoring the actual grads and the VIPs, Williams also honors four high school teachers. These teachers are nominated by the graduating seniors to mark the high school teachers who had a profound impact on them. A committee winnows down the nominations and selects who they deem to be the four most inspiring teachers. Each winner gets a $2,000 gift as well as $1,000 for their school, plus the cost of bringing them to Williamstown for graduation weekend.

This story got me thinking about my own high school teachers. Since I do not have to go before a committee, I thought I’d pick the four who inspired me the most from my own high school days:

  • Mr. Doyle, social studies
  • Mr. Doyle taught U.S. history my junior year, but has since retired from teaching. I keep meaning to write him a letter to tell him how much I appreciated his class and his teaching. Maybe if I get this right, I’ll send it to him.

    Mr. Doyle was less concerned with dates than he was with causes. You could bring as much info into your test as you could fit onto a note card, but that’s not actually the reason I remember him so fondly. The reason I like him so much is that he started the class with a key lesson: historiography and the idea that history books are written by the victors. But if you look at the other side, too, you may find the truth located somewhere in the middle. Everyone is biased and it’s only by combining all the voices together that you come close to getting an accurate picture. This is a radical concept to teach 16-year olds — that just because “the book says so” (or, by extrapolation, “the adults say so”) doesn’t mean it’s true.

    Admittedly, I did not do as much homework as I should have, and I finished off far too many papers in class sitting behind a friend. And admittedly the class wasn’t as useful as it could have been heading into the AP exam, as we were about 120 years behind where we ultimately needed to be. But it did inspire Karen and me to pore through those 120 years to cover them on our own — in a structured fashion that was not typical of either of us. And I’m not sure that we would have done that in another teacher’s class.

    His class was probably the one that best prepared me for college. And it was the one that probably most affected my later years of study as I delved into women’s studies and African American studies in my undergrad years and later got a Master’s in American studies, focusing on “studies of the other.” Without a firm understanding of, appreciation for, and interest in historiography, I would probably never have thought about pursuing those subjects.

  • Mrs. Lavalette, English
  • Mrs. Lav (pronounced like the first syllable of lava), as we all called her, taught my creative writing class and published the school literary magazine. She was my favorite teacher during my high school days and was the teacher I asked to escort me to the smarty-pants dinner we had my senior year. But the thing that I liked best about Mrs. Lav was that at a school where we didn’t have a lot of crossover between groups and cliques (that’s assuming that there are schools that do have some), she made a safe environment for people from all groups to come together and to exchange ideas and feelings. We had the smart kids, the artsy kids, the hanging-out in the parking lot kids, the pregnant girl, the token lesbian… It was our very own Breakfast Club. And we all felt safe and like we could say things there without fear of having them travel around the school. It takes a special kind of person to bring that to a classroom.

  • Mrs. Lathrop, French
  • Madame taught me French the last three years of school and was the advisor to the French club. She offered the best field trips to us — taking us to Boston to see the Science Museum (I thought we were supposed to go to a fine arts museum, but we had a lot more fun playing in the science museum than we would have being reverant before Degas, Chagall, and Gaugin.) and to New York to see Les Mis. And the fact is that she used French class to expose us to French art, literature, films, and culture. We all enjoyed her classes, even if we didn’t learn how to speak French well. I attribute my comparatively high French reading comprehension (as opposed to my miserable oral/aural skills) to her.

  • Mr. Munley, math
  • Mr. Munley is dead now, and it saddens me I didn’t get a chance to tell him how much I enjoyed him and his corny sense of humor. I’m not sure that I enjoyed his class, because I didn’t really enjoy math, but I definitely liked him. A lot of kids didn’t, because he was your stereotypical nerd, with the greasy hair and the heavy glasses. But he was a nice man, who loved his subject. And I think he liked me because I was good at math, often without trying, sometimes without understanding why I knew the answers. And I think he hoped that eventually I would change my mind, leave behind my English degree aspirations, and move into a math discipline. I never did, but I appreciate that he hoped that for me. And I’m sorry that I won’t get to tell him that.

As the school year rolls to a close, others must have memories of the crème de la crème, as Madame would say, amongst the teachers of their youth. Anyone care to share?

Category: life -- uncategorized. There is/are 1 Comment.

It’s Williamstown, not Williamsport, that is the home of Williams College. Just being nitpicky (and itchy).

Comment by random duck 06.21.05 @ 4:11 pm