Remembering teachers for what they did to (I mean, for) you

Had to reTweet this item from The Onion today:

Unemployed, Miserable Man Still Remembers Teacher Who First Made Him Fall In Love With Writing

AUBURN, CA—Explaining that she introduced him to the literature that made him the man he is today, 41-year-old Casey Sheard, an unemployed and fundamentally miserable person, confirmed to reporters Tuesday that he still fondly remembers the high school teacher who first inspired him to fall in love with writing. “Mrs. Merriman was the one who put a copy of The Sound And The Fury in my hands when I was 16 years old, and it totally changed my life,” said Sheard, who has reportedly been unable to hold down any semblance of well-paid, full-time employment, constantly struggles to stay financially afloat, has thus far failed to make a living off of writing as a career, and has frequently spiraled into long periods of severe depression and unhappiness….

A couple of other word guys liked that. Mike Fitts just added, “Yep.”

17 thoughts on “Remembering teachers for what they did to (I mean, for) you

  1. Juan Caruso

    “…41-year-old Casey Sheard, an unemployed and fundamentally miserable person…
    Sheard would likely soon return to the classroom as a high school teacher himself to inspire a love of writing in students just as Merriman did for him.” –

    Exactly the attitude favored by too many of today’s teachers’ unions, perhaps, but how many savvy parents would actually want a self-confessed failure like Sheard in a classroom with their children?

    Am I missing a possible nom de plume, or has this whining genius just assured himself he never get a decent teaching job either?

    1. Doug Ross

      It’s from The Onion. It’s a joke.

      Although there is some hint of truth in that very few people derive much benefit from exposure to classic literature. It keeps English teachers employed though.

      1. barry

        Does anyone really find The Onion funny?

        I’ve tried – but other than the OCCASIONAL headline that is sort of funny (like fake farting was in the 1st grade), their writers try way too hard to try to be funny.

        Of course I rarely even look at anything they have to write about anyway.

        most of it is just really stupid stuff – and not funny at all.

  2. elliott

    For a different view, that is not a joke, try Pat Conroy’s memoir about the Great Santini. I guess not everyone appreciates a liberal arts ducation.

        1. Doug Ross

          No, I mean what I said. Most people suffer through liberal arts classes and then move on to things they find more useful and enjoyable.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Doug, I hate to break it to you, but you use and live (and enjoy) History, Literature, Rhetoric, Economics, Mathematics, Philosophy, Sociology, Linguistics and Physics every single day.

          2. Doug Ross

            Never had any classes in Philosophy, Rhetoric, Sociology or Lingusitics. The math I use doesn’t involve anything I learned after middle school. Physics happens without me having to understand it.. I’ve forgotten pretty much everything in that area.

            As for literature, I read books all the time… I just don’t read the “literature” that is force fed to students. Only a small minority of people stick with those “classics” and there’s a reason for that – most of us find them dull and pointless.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    The problem with liberal arts is that it isn’t as rigorous as it once was. If you go back: History, English Lit, Philosophy, Classics and the other liberal arts majors were some of the toughest majors out there.

    Now that’s not the case.

    And to make sure that no one thinks I’m unfairly picking on liberal arts, I say this as a double major in Economics and Philosophy graduate from a college that primarily focused on the liberal arts education. I don’t think my college even offered a engineering major while I was there.

  4. Norm Ivey

    Thankfully, I escaped Casey Sheard’s fate….

    A liberal arts education provided me with a rewarding career, an open and curious mind, frequently good judgement, the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of thousands of young people, and many friendships. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    As for remembering teachers, I have two I remember most. Mrs. Bourguet (4th grade) had a way of teaching that fully engaged us–we were always immersed in the current topic, and the topic reared its head in all content areas. I loved her as a kid; I am in awe of her as an adult. And Mr. Hall’s (7th-8th grades) contribution was that the things he did TO me (held me accountable, mostly) wound up being the things he did FOR me.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      We newspapermen had a very different experience.

      Personally, I think I sort of came to a love of the language on my own. Probably the biggest influence school had (aside from teaching me to read in the 1st grade) was the copy of The Weekly Reader that persuaded me to get my parents to sign me up for the Weekly Reader Book Club, to which I belonged for years. Some of those books were my favorites in my grade-school years, although I read others as well.

      Speaking of first grade (as I just did parenthetically), that’s when I wrote my first newspaper story. It was a one-paragraph report for the school paper (I attended a very high-standards private school in the 1st grade, because my birthday was too late for the public schools in Norfolk, Va., and I guess my parents thought it ridiculous to hold me back a year), about what my class was doing to get ready for Christmas. Oddly, I wouldn’t write for publication again until college — I didn’t do the high-school-paper thing that so many people who went into journalism did.

      I had two English teachers who made an impression on me. The first was Mr. Kramberg in the 8th grade, who may also have been my first male teacher. I only remember three things about him: 1. He read the original short story of “Flowers for Algernon” aloud to us in class. That got me to run out and get the novel later. 2. When New Orleans area schools were about to be integrated (well over a decade after Brown v. Board), he brought up the subject one day in class, urging us to ask any questions and express any concerns we had. I doubt he was instructed to do that or anything; I think he just took it upon himself to help the process go smoothly by preparing his students for it. 3. At the end of the year, he was leaving teaching to go to Vietnam. I don’t know what happened to him after that.

      Mr. Kramberg didn’t turn me on to reading — he was way late for that — but he did turn me on to Flowers for Algernon, which I loved. And he impressed me with his social consciousness, and his respect for us kids as people able to wrestle constructively with tough issues like race.

      The other English teacher who made a big impression was Mrs. Burchard in my senior year, the one year I spend in Hawaii. She and I just really hit it off, had a meeting of the minds, and I considered her a friend, although she probably thought of me as a just a student who occasionally made her laugh. I also, as you can tell, had a crush on her. Burl will tell you she was quite attractive.

      She was one of the “cool” teachers. She let us pick a lot of what we read that year, so it was that we studied Catch-22 (which I lobbied heavily for, having read it already and loved it), Stranger in a Strange Land, and Cat’s Cradle. But she also had us read four plays by Ibsen (I loved “An Enemy of the People“), and Wuthering Heights…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        About the only other English teacher I remember by name was Mrs. Whitner, in the 9th grade at Bennettsville High School.

        Back in those pre-real integration (and therefore pre-white flight) days, BHS had some really sharp, demanding teachers — better than you might expect from a small school in the Pee Dee. I wasn’t conscious of that at the time; but it seems that way in retrospect.

        I don’t remember her so much for anything she taught as for her tough, no-nonsense, ascerbic manner. I particularly recall what she said to one boy in my class after a boneheaded question or observation of his during class discussion: “Boy, when they were handing out brains, you took a ham sandwich.” I remember that boy’s name purely because of that incident, but I’ll withhold it.

        This was, needless to say, before teachers were expected to treat students as delicate flowers.

        1. Norm Ivey

          If you remember that incident so well, how well do you suppose that kid remembers it? It might be that the kid needed to hear that, but he didn’t need you to hear it. The only thing he learned by it was that school was a place where adults can hurt you, and no one speaks up.

      2. Doug Ross

        I had an English teacher, Mrs. Green, in high school who was my favorite as well. Because I went to a vocational high school where we only did academics every other week. We had different teachers for Literature and for English (grammar, vocabulary, etc.) Mrs. Green taught the English class. She was a teacher who talked to you rather than at you. Attitude makes a difference in teaching in my experience and she was easily the most liked teacher in the school.

        One time, she thought she’d play a joke on me when she saw that when she had mimeographed a vocabulary test and it had printed in reversed image. She saved one of those reversed copies and when she handed out the tests, put that one my desk, and then went back to her desk to watch my response. I looked at it, didn’t say a word, and proceeded to write all my answers in reverse. First one done, 100%. Yes, I was a egotistical jerk back then too.

        My least favorite teacher was a literature teacher in the same high school, Mr. Clinton. Just a plain old mean guy who was burned out on teaching. He was put in charge of coordinating the graduation speeches our senior year. I turned in my valedictorian’s speech to him a couple week’s before the event. Two days before graduation, he called me down to the library, slid across a couple sheets of paper and said “Here’s what you’re going to read at graduation.” Apparently he didn’t like my speech (it was libertarian themed before I knew what a libertarian was). Mr. Clinton’s speech was a classic liberal’s view of the world and had quotes from both Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy along with some anti-Vietnam War themes. It ended with a sentence advising my fellow students to “Hang loose!” Mr. Clinton made it clear that I would be reading that speech or else. Regrettably, I gave in to his demands and it pretty much ruined my graduation experience.

        1. Norm Ivey

          I agree, Doug, the best teachers are those who can relate to their students–even enjoy their company. The fact that Mrs. Green knew you were the one who would appreciate the reversed sheet tells me she knew you well.

          I fortunately never had a Mr. Clinton experience. Most of the issues I had with teachers were of my own doing. When I was in the classroom and the kids would begin to get on my nerves, I’d observe to the class they were karma paying me back for my own classroom behavior, and I would thank them. And then I would remind them that Karma would surely one day pay them back as well.

      3. Norm Ivey

        Mr. Kramberg sounds a lot like Mrs. Bourguet. She didn’t turn me on to any particular book–Mother had already taken pains to make sure I had a deep love of reading–but she did introduce to reading news–specifically Time Magazine. That’s when I realized that things were happening in other countries as opposed to the static cultural stuff they taught us about them in Geography (all Chinese people ride bicycles and wear those pointy hats). She was also a master at engaging us in conversation, and respectfully listening to what we had to offer. She called them Rap Sessions. The moon landing, Vietnam, and ecology were the most interesting to me. She was only at my school for one year as her husband also left for Vietnam at the end of the year. She’s probably the only teacher I ever missed. I tried to get in touch with her after I became a teacher, but no luck. She was “no longer a member of the family” I was told.

        I had some great High School Lit classes. My favorite was the science fiction class where we read Childhood’s End, Stranger in a Strange Land, Fahrenheit 451 and The Lathe of Heaven. And then there were the Short Stories I and Short Stories II classes. I could name the teachers for the classes, but not for anything special they did. My teachers’ names just stick.

        Some Weekly Reader books that stand out in my memory are Be Nice to Spiders, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Harry the Dirty Dog, and Never Tease a Weasel.

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