School’s Back (pt. 1)

August 22, 2011 | 6 comments
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In just less than 2 hours, I’ll teach my first class of the 2011-2012 school year. Which means that summer’s over. (Yes, I realize that it may not be for you personally—I know some places have been in school for the last couple weeks, while the Chicago Public Schools don’t start for another two weeks. And many of you have graduated, anyway. But go with me here.)

Because of the impending classes, I’ve been thinking recently about memorable classes and teachers I’ve had. And one moment keeps sticking out in my mind: 11th grade English. We had just finished Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In retrospect [SPOILER ALERT, btw: if you haven't read The Scarlet Letter, don't read any further until you have], my teacher looked a little pale. I’m not sure, though, if any of us noticed it. Then, all of a sudden, he ripped open his shirt and we saw a red “A” on his chest.

Substantively, I don’t know what his performance added to my understanding of the novel. I got what had happened, I got the symbolism. But his willingness to go all out means that it stuck with me. Even now, almost 20 years later, I remember that moment in that class with a clarity that’s not present for most of high school.

So how about you? Any memorable classes or teachers you’d like to share?[fn1]

[fn1] Yeah, I’m not sure what the Mormon connection is, either. Maybe it’s that we’ll probably all teach something at some point, so recalling great moments in teaching can inspire us to prepare better lessons. But that’s probably a stretch. So let’s just call it slices of Mormon life (even if the teachers we recall—like my 11th grade English teacher—aren’t Mormon). That said, I promise Part 2 will have a Mormon connection.

6 Responses to School’s Back (pt. 1)

  1. Mathew on August 22, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Sharon Allsop-Day. I had her three years running in high school. The first year I was in her remedial English class which I would regularly skip to hang out with friends. When I was caught she insisted on an early-morning meeting with my mother in which she suggested that I sign up for her honors English class the following year. The very thought of a summer reading list was intimidating to me. My senior year I took her AP Art History class. I honestly think if it wasn’t for Sharon Allsop-Day I would have very likely pissed away whatever potential I had. More than anyone else, credit belongs to her for teaching me to enjoy the classroom.

  2. Kaimi Wenger on August 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    You’re giving spoiler alerts for The Scarlet Letter?

    So, also (spoiler alert – stop reading if you haven’t seen Return of the Jedi) V—- really is L—’s father. Who would have guessed it?

    :)

  3. Hilary on August 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    In History, I was sitting in class before it started, just the teacher, two other girls and myself. One of the girls (who I remember was wearing a ’666′ shirt that day) had come in just furious, ranting loudly (with lots of expletives) about stupid Mormons, and how did they think it was their right to go knock on doors and bug people, etc, etc. I froze. I knew I was the only Mormon in the room (in fact, the teacher was an openly gay woman who’d been raised in an abusive Mormon home and had since left, and had nothing to do with, the Mormon Church.) My little 16 year old heart froze in terror of this ‘potential missionary moment’ I had no idea what to do with. And I was mildly terrified of the girl who was asking the tough questions. The teacher though, without missing a beat said, “Have you ever told someone about a movie you liked? A book? A restaurant?” She paused, then added, “They’ve found something that makes them very happy. Something they believe has the power to make them happy forever. Why wouldn’t they share that?” It was so simple, and completely changed how I view member missionary work. (Though, honestly I don’t think that I’m much better about it now.) But, if I’m willing to tell a stranger in an aisle of Costco about the brand of diapers that work best for my baby, or my friends about this great diet I’ve tried that’s working great for me and I’ve never felt better, why can’t I share all the things that make me happy on a grand scale . . . even if that thing is something as personal as a testimony of Jesus Christ, or of the eternal nature of families . . .

  4. Sam Brunson on August 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Kaimi, I’d hate to ruin such a classic story for anybody. ;)

    And Hilary, thanks.

  5. ideasnstuff on August 24, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Delia Ybarra, of Cupertino High School, will probably never read this, but I’ve had a chance to talk with her personally on the phone, many years after my high school experience. I transferred from SoCal to NorCal in the fall of 1966, jumping from Jr. High to High School in mid-year due to the difference in school systems. I had taken some Spanish, so got put immediately into, I think, Spanish 2. The first day of class, Srta. Ybarra gave me a number, and then played her infamous “tape”, where she rapid-fired questions to the class, followed by the assigned numbers of the different students. If your number was called, you had to answer the question, orally, in real time. She could listen to 4-5 studens at once and keep track.

    We learned to sing traditional Spanish “villancicos” or Christmas Carols that year, we learned ALL of the verb tenses in indicative AND subjunctive mood, we memorized the famous soliloquy from Calderon’s “La Vida es Sueño”. (Think of memorizing Hamlet’s soliloquy as a second-year English student). We learned all about Spanish and Latin American culture from this Tex-Mex dynamo. Her class changed my life forever. With the help of a mission, I speak Spanish with near-native fluency and my profession is language translation, which I love (Dad wanted an architect, but was happy with my success in my field). My wife is Latin American and all my children are bi- or tri-lingual.

    What a difference one teacher can make!

  6. Alison Moore Smith on August 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    If you haven’t read Scarlet Letter, stop reading blogs now and do something worthwhile.

    Our public school started Monday. I’m so annoyed at the idiocy of it all that I can’t possibly be expected to think of something positively memorable for at least three or four weeks.

    OK, except the day a handful of teacher donned togas and preceded to spit water at each other on stage. Yea, baby, that’s education.