I’ve been planning today’s post for – no joke – two years. It was supposed to be called “The Greats,” and it was going to consist of photos of me with some of my beloved teachers from the K-8 school I attended way back in the twentieth century. Today was that school’s annual alumnae lunch. I graduated in 1990, making this year my class’s twenty–fifth reunion year. Never mind the mind-boggling question of how exactly all those years passed while I was busy grading papers and yelling at the cats to stop scratching the furniture – I think the answer has something to do with quantum mechanics.
When I was in the seventh grade, I took an elective course called “Critic’s Corner” – a course in book reviewing. We read and reviewed mostly children’s books, but I caught the book-reviewing bug and ended up reading and evaluating young adult and adult novels as well. Then as now, I did not need any instructions about how to criticize things, but that course ended up being a fantastic outlet for me. There were maybe five or six students in the class, which was taught by the upper school librarian. After the first few weeks, we mostly spent our class sessions working on our own reviews – reading, writing, and sharing ideas. Writing about it now, it’s hard to imagine thinking such a course was anything new and different – but back then I usually did my reading at home, in private. I didn’t talk about books with friends, at least not most of the time. The lesson that course taught me was a simple but revolutionary one: SEEK OUT THE BOOK PEOPLE. It sounds simple, but reading is a private activity, and it’s hard to know when and how to turn it into something social – especially in the seventh grade when any misstep from peer-sanctioned behavior is a potential hornet’s nest of anxiety. But it’s a lesson I internalized: within a few years I had met Jill, whom I think of as my first “book friend” – and everywhere I’ve gone since I’ve always turned my antennae out and found the book people, wherever they were.
So my plan was to take a picture of me with the teacher who taught that course more than 25 years ago, and write a post about the teacher who introduced me to book reviewing. She was there, but one thing led to another and I was talking to other people and she was talking to other people and the next thing I knew, I looked up and she was gone. She still teaches at the school, so I can get in touch with her easily – but my post was going to be so good – and now, well, it’s not. All I have instead is the above photograph of a coffee mug. I know – it’s pathetic.
I did spend some wonderful time with another one of “the greats” – Diana Murphy, who taught me in second and fourth grades. In her classes, I memorized a poem a week for two years: she gave me Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson and Vachel Lindsay and Sara Teasdale and Robert Louis Stevenson, not to mention tidepooling and the constellations and the phases of the moon and A Wrinkle in Time. She’s the reason I call all groups of more than one person – regardless of gender – “you guys.”
Both of these teachers deserve a bit more of a tribute than I am giving them now, and someday soon I’d like to return to the topic of “the greats” and tell you more about the teachers whose faces and voices are still so vibrant and present for me, even twenty-five years or more after I left their classrooms. I know this is a book blog, not a teacher blog, but I’ll make it worth your while, I promise.