"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Letter to My Former English Teachers

Dear Former English Teachers,
        You may remember me...or not. I'm the one who wrote passionate, page long answers to your questions like "What is your favorite book?"and "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" and you'll be happy to know that I can tie To Kill a Mockingbird into just about anything (and I did, in an essay on the AP English Language test yesterday-I'm not allowed to talk about specifics). But enough about me.
        I'm here to talk about you. Collectively, you are the craziest, most passionate group of people I know. Some of you were odd balls, or just plain grumps, but I understand how teaching long enough can make you that way. You each have your quirks: one of you is afraid of hair (Journalism teacher), another of you used to teach 3rd grade math and made us play math games in class, and you, my current english teacher, are obsessed with Batman and John Keats (nicknamed Junkets). And I love you for it. Even the teachers I'm not particularly grateful for have taught me something, even if it's only, "Don't grow up to be like her." 
        And without you, ALL of you, I might never have discovered my love of language. The books we read in elementary school stay in my memory to this day. And the books after that, and the books after that. Harper Lee, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Alice Walker. Their voices stay with me. I can hear the words running through my mind, and what I was feeling when I read them, and what I was feeling when you talked about them in class. Your voices run together into a collective voice, at times passionate and inspiring, and at times serious, asking the tough questions, telling me to think harder than I am. 
        You teachers don't get much recognition. Chocolate, maybe, at Christmas time, and lots of Barnes & Noble Gift Cards. But real recognition? For everything you do? Every day, you deal with math loving *shudder* middle schoolers *shudder*. I'm sorry I never told you how I feel. I hope my love of English was evident in my writing. I hope, even in those dark ages known as middle school, that you knew I cared. You were the ones who planted the spark. The spark that makes me sit down and write every day. The spark that keeps me up to all hours of the night, reading. The spark that makes every essay a personal challenge to outdo myself, and every question like "What is your favorite book?" a dissertation.
         So thanks for being there. For pushing me when I needed pushing, and praising when I needed praising. Thanks for showing up at awards ceremonies. Thanks for showing up, period. Because even if we seem like thankless slobs who can't even remember to do our homework, we will never forget you. And that's the truth.


On a loosely related note, this is what our current english teacher wrote about John Keats on out final exam review sheet:

"In order to adequately prepare for the rest of your life, you must learn to embrace John Keats [know the glorious date of his birth, know that Fanny could never deserve the greatness of his love, and know that "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be" is his most truly awe-inspiring poem!]"

Yeah, she's cool, right? And for those of you who are interested, here is my summer reading list:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Started reading it but never finished.)
How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (Same as above.)
Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Never read. Excited about this one!)


  1. She does sound cool! I really appreciate my english teachers too(but especially the one from this year), and since we are on the subject of amazing teachers and what they do, let me tell you about mine! So my english teacher this year has been the best english teacher I've ever had. She truly taught us so much over the whole year and she is incredible for that. In the first month, our english class was really quiet all the time and I hated the atmosphere and everything seemed too stoic, including the teacher. I really dreaded going to that class because I was always too afraid to move. But then, gradually, our class warmed up to her(I'm not really sure exactly when this began happening) and soon she would make this small joke/sidenote and we would actually laugh a little bit, when previously we would just have emotionless faces. Now almost everytime she makes a little joke or comment, we laugh. And she smiles so often! It's the kind of smile that's like, I-am-laughing-a-secret-joke-in-my-head kind of smile, and not a I-am-smiling-for-your-benefit smile or a I-am-smiling-to-make-you-feel-better smile(even though that's what it does). Even when the class talks too much, she never seems to go into stern-mode to tell us to be quiet. Sometimes it feels like teachers feel obligated to become stern to make us do things. She instead smiles and makes a joke(not the typical kind either. It's hard to describe.) and everyone chuckles and gets the message and stops talking. I think that's one of the major reasons almost everyone likes her(other than for her amazing teaching ability). She doesn't make you feel bad, and she isn't condescending.She also follows her schedule incredibly well and for once it feels like the teachers that are telling us to be responsible and not to lose our things and to be prompt are actually following their own advice! Ok, most of my teachers are pretty prompt and don't lose our stuff, but I have met several teachers in high school who have lost things or given back homework assignments(and not essays or long term assignments either! just one page assignments that are given back with a little red check.) several months after we turned it in, and it's so frustrating when they are the ones who are admonishing us for losing our papers. Oh while we are on the subject, every teacher that has ever written a comment on things I turn in, I am forever grateful to. Even if it's just a, "great!" or "excellent!" because that's what my english teacher writes on vocab. quizzes and small things like that. And when teachers comment on the sentences/stories I write, I aim to be better every time(especially with sentence patterns. Then it feels like a person is actually reading my sentences for their content). That's what my past two english teachers have done. Of course in middle school it happened sometimes too but.. it feels even more special now. Anyway I really didn't mean to write so much. I actually just intended to write about a small incident that happened on AP English Test a few days ago.

  2. So on AP English test day, I was late 5 minutes. It was really scary because I knew that if I did not get there before the test began, I wouldn't be able to retake it again until next year. So I got there and everyone was already seated and I walked through the little curtains feeling like someone would see me and kick me out when someone else late ran to his seat with his test packet and some writing utensils in front of me. Behind him was my english teacher, smiling. She saw me and waved me over and I probably had some form of a terrified expression on my face because she said something like, It's ok, you're going to be fine. And she was smiling, which calmed me down because honestly I thought she was going to be like raised-eyebrows, I warned you not to be late(I imagine other teachers would do that o_o). Then she handed me some utensils wrapped together with some tape and gave me my testpacket and I sat down. Then when I was opening my taped together utensils, I found this plastic eraser. So, this eraser was a really nice eraser. I know this and all the art students know this because we go to art stores to buy this kind of eraser. This was not a Pink Pearl eraser. This was not one of those, I-am-a-known-brand-obvious-choice-eraser-that-actually-erases-with-ugly-smudges. This was a I-am-a-lovely-white-sharp-clean-eraser-and-I-will-do-my-job-and-congratulations-on-making-such-a-good-choice eraser. And I was like wow, an eraser. You gave me a really good eraser. And the pencil and the pen in the package were new and worked beautifully. The pen wasn't even the typical white Bic pen with black cap on top pen. It was this svelte black special Bic pen that had italic metallic inscribed on the end. It was the kind that screamed I-am-awesome-and-write-smoothly! And they were all packaged with this clear tape. It was really neat. Then I turned over the perfect eraser and I saw a little sticker on it that had "Break a leg!" written on it and I was like, oh my god. The thing is, every student in the room knew that our english teacher had written these because she had been commenting on all our papers all year with this neat cursive that was beautiful yet sometimes hard to read, and that was the handwriting on the eraser. She even alternated between "Good luck!" and "Break a leg!" (obvious reference to the theatre kids) And we got to keep it. I cherish that eraser now. It is beautiful and clean and white and has lovely sharp edges and is the perfect amount of bendy and it erases so nicely and it's really soft. And you know what else? Halfway through the test, I actually looked at my pencil and realized that it said, -insert my school's name- Lucky Pencil and I was like AHHHHHHHHHH! IT'S PERSONALIZED! AND IT'S LUCKY! At first I thought I was the only one that appreciated the lovely package, nice eraser/pen choice, lucky pencil, and handwritten sticker, but apparently other people noticed too. (I know this because one of the theatre students made a status about the eraser and the written sticker and a bunch of people liked it so I knew I was not alone. I feel so strange making a facebook reference right now, and for using it as supporting evidence or whatever this is.) The utensil package was totally unnecessary because the counselors walk around to pass out reused-a-few-times-but-still-sharpish pencils(although sometimes they had horrible erasers attached to them) before every AP test anyway, and they only give it to people who didn't bring their own pencils.

  3. Anyway, I really appreciate all those little things(and those big things) that she had done for us. That eraser made me incredibly happy. Every time I have an amazing teacher, I just want to tell them how I noticed and how I appreciate it but that's just not the kind of thing that happens. And then I wonder how many students have felt this over the years, and I wonder if those amazing teachers even have an inkling of how much appreciation there is for them. So that's partly why I wanted to write all this down.. Hehe.. I really didn't mean for this to be that long. :D

    Wow I went over the 4,096 character limit twice! And the second time I couldn't figure out why it said that because on word it said it was 4,086 characters. Now I see that for some reason there were extra spaces between a few of my words. Sorry for commenting three times with just the same comment continued.. It probably would have made more sense to send this in an email instead :D

  4. All teachers should read this! I bet they forget what the individual experience of being a student is like . . .
    Truthfully, it really bothers me when teachers give such slow feedback sometimes. How do they expect you to improve when you don' know how you are doing?
    A good teacher is priceless. My favorite teacher was Mr. Goolsby, my English teacher in 10th and 11th grade. He could lead a class discussion in such a way that all the students thought they were individually discovering whatever he wanted us to know all by themselves and thereby experiencing all the joy of discovery instead of someone just telling them. He went on to become the head of the English department at St Johns. (When I knew him he was in his early thirties)