Why I Love English Teachers

1. I had my first shameless obsession with an English teacher when I was in kindergarten. Of course, she was also the craft maker and the hand holder and the nap enforcer, but I knew her true colors. She liked reading the best. It was in that formative year, the same year I discovered Dunkaroos and got my first time-out for talking in line (who’s surprised?), that I wrote my first book. I think there may have been several. They all had animal protagonists that I would make out of tissue boxes and toilet paper tubes and bring to my teacher. Anyone else might have patted me on the head and trashed my creations, but this woman might actually be a saint. She got my little books bound at the copy store. And then sent me this picture, all these years later, of one of my heroines, still hanging out on her bookcase.

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2. Jump ahead! 5th grade! Our surly teacher is pacing the room, one hand cradling his chin, the other hand holding a thin book. His brow is furrowed, his posture is stooped, he’s reading slowly–enunciating and spitting a little.

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“I’m sorry, Bumper, I crossed the line.” He pauses. Breathes out sharply, like he’s solving a riddle. “I’M SORRY, BUMPER, I CROSSED—THE LINE.” He snaps the book shut and looks us over. “What does that mean? ‘I crossed the line.’ Tell me, what does he MEAN by that?”

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That was the week we read Alan Arkin’s The Lemming Condition, about the little animals that fling themselves off of cliffs. We also read a Dahl story about a man who could see through things, enough to see a clot moving towards his heart, spelling imminent death. Then we read about an astronaut, floating in space, having to twist his space suit shut every time a meteor shaves off one of his limbs. Floating. Floating. Dead. Sure, this was terrifying, but I’ve never met a man who expected more reading comprehension out of a bunch of ten-year-olds. A class like that will really blow the Judy Blume out of—wherever.

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3. Middle school was a productive time in my career as a reader. This LIST of the 100 greatest children’s novels is pretty comprehensive. I loved them all. And then I took 8th grade English with the Joan of Arc of Middle School teachers. Spelling books? Hell no! She wanted us to make our own lists, words we encountered in our reading, words we cared about. Bench marks? Who cares? She posted a list of banned books on the wall and made them available to us at any time. None of those children’s novels in our classroom library. We had real books. She gave me Toni Morrison and Ursula Heigi. I learned more about hate, passion, jealousy, devastation, and manipulation that year than I had in the rest of my school career (and that’s saying something). She’s still blowing my literary world wide open–she sent me a link just the other day for THE BLIND OWL (the article boasts, “This book will end your life”). She thought I’d be interested because it looked “dark.”

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Love it.

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4. And then there was high school. I had a wonderful teacher for Honors English my junior year. She reminded me of Meryl Streep, a little in looks and a little in attitude. She’s an author. We read the classics. It was a wise, erudite year of great American literature and poetry readings and, at the end of it, we all milled around with our hands tucked in the pockets of our linen jackets just like Gatsby….

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I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore.

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It was like this:

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Love,

Susannah Long (intern extraordinaire)

One Comment On This Post:

October 24, 2010
3:24 pm
Screenwriting Books says...

Thanks for the great post! Reminds me of all my old favorite teachers. Great clip too!

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