Saturday, January 05, 2008

Gratitude, Belatedly

After my diary-diving expedition for my last post, I’ve been poking around a bit in my paper archive, the hope chest full of spiral-bound notebooks and duotangs collaged with clippings from Seventeen magazine. One treasure I hadn’t peeked into for years is my log book from grade 10 Theatre Arts. I was required to keep this journal for school – it was read and evaluated by my teacher – but perhaps for that reason it preserves a somewhat less carefully constructed version of myself than the heavily introspective private diaries I was keeping at the same time.

When I think of high school, what I remember is the suffering. My log book is littered with reminders of that: my voice is chirpy and enthusiastic, but each gap in my entries is explained as the result of being too depressed to write. I describe the antics of my extraverted, charismatic theatre-arts cohorts – and then describe myself sitting on a roster block, painfully inhibited and unable to take part. There are many indications of friendliness and acceptance from my peers, but these gestures were powerless to penetrate my armour of self-conscious shyness.

I felt vaguely sad after reading that log book – and amazed at how many experiences have left no imprint at all on my memory: try as I might, I can find no recollection of the Twelve Days of Christmas sketch we performed for the Christmas auditorium. Other things I do remember: a pizza parlour game on theatre sports day, an exercise in walking blindfolded around the auditorium, singing my name in opera-style to a round of applause from my peers.

Perhaps the most surprising feeling was gratitude to my teacher, Mr. Rimbault. I’ve written about him before – he’s the man who taught me the words “gregarious” and “lugubrious” (also, I discovered in my log book, “inebriated”). But I was struck this time by how carefully constructed the course was: how clearly the purpose of each exercise was communicated and how stimulating and creative the activities were. The first few weeks of class were filled with boring lectures designed to restrain the energies of the kind of student most often attracted to drama courses – the hand-out at the front of the notebook emphasized that “Theatre Arts class is not a recreational break from your other academic activities: it is itself an academic discipline that requires intelligence, concentration, commitment and hard work.” Such cautionary messages were hardly necessary in my case: in the log book I describe my strategy for getting a part in the school play – I planned to make up in punctuality and dedication what I lacked in talent, working my way up from a walk-on to, later on, a speaking role.

As a long-term plan it worked remarkably well: I lurked shyly at the borders of the drama-geek club in grade 10, showing up reliably to rehearsals as a “Person of the Town” in that year’s Our Town production. By grade 12 I had achieved a headline role in Nicholas Nickleby as Madeleine, Nicholas’s “heart’s desire” (a role I won almost entirely on my ability to shed tears on cue). I enjoyed my Theatre Arts classes; I loved being in the plays and appreciated Mr. Rimbault for his quirkiness and vast vocabulary.

It never occurred to me at the time to be grateful. I knew which teachers I liked and disliked, which ones I respected and despised. I certainly appreciated the countless hours Mr. Maurice dedicated to directing our annual productions. Perhaps it is on behalf of my own children that I feel so grateful now for the intelligence and care he brought to his job. We plan to bite the bullet this September and send Bub to kindergarten, crossing our fingers and hoping that he will encounter teachers as open-minded and dedicated as the ones I took so wholly for granted when I was in school.

35 comments:

Teah said...

Thank you for this post - it reminds me of the teachers who were ABSOLUTELY AMAZING teachers, that I can only really appreciate now that I have my own children to train up and rear.

yertle said...

Thanks! As a former teacher and a person who works in teacher education it is important to me to remember that teaching is a personal act. Sometimes you have to take it on faith that it is working since most high school age kids won't tell you.

Omaha Mama said...

I think you've shown your gratitude right here. What a great tribute to your teacher.

Jenn said...

Maybe you can find him and thank him now?

Constance said...

I wonder if you could find your old teacher, and write him a note. I took a lot of my teachers for granted, too, and have recently been thinking of using The Power of the Internet to find them.

Mimi said...

Funny how deliberate pedagogy sometimes only becomes apparent in retrospect. Blindfolded around the auditorium operatically singing your own name? Wow!

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

I once looked up an old teacher and thanked him. I had, on one particular occasion, shown him some real disrespect. I always deeply regretted it, because I wondered if that was how he remembered me rather than seeing how grateful I was for his thoughtful and encouraging instruction over two years of high school. He wrote back right away, and it was a wonderful, very philosophical letter. Turned out he and his wife struggled with infertility the whole time I was at that school, and he and his also-teacher wife went on to adopt two kids. I was so glad I wrote to him.

MAGIRK said...

All I could think of while reading this, is that you couldn't pay me a million dollars to repeat my high school years.

However, I do have two teachers who paid attention to the kid who felt lost in the crowd and influenced me for good to such an extent that I am alive today.

I enjoyed reading this post. Though it resurrected many painful memories for me, it also reminds me of those 2 precious souls who reached out to a teen like me and actually made a difference.

Now, with the ability to put things into some perspective (as opposed to an awkward teenager), I am inexpressibly grateful!

Don Mills Diva said...

Teachers thank you for this post. My mom and several cousins are teachers and they all do it because they know how crucial the right adult at the right time can be in a child's life. Great post - thanks.

NotSoSage said...

Recently, I ran into an old high school acquaintance who told me that he had been too shy to infiltrate our group in high school, and wished he had. I, on the other hand, thought he was too cool for us and have long regretted not getting to know him beter. High school is messy and everyone is insecure and reading each other wrong.

It's funny, as well, that I spent New Year's Day with some friends talking about the influence, both good and bad, that some of them had on us. They impact us more than we - or they, I suspect - would ever imagine.

Stimey said...

Hey, I was a "townsperson" in Our Town too. To be more specific, I think I was Townsperson #2. Oh, was I a star!

Good teachers do make a difference. I'm also nervous for Jack in kindergarten.

Merle said...

I hold on to the idea that there are many dedicated, wonderful teachers and I hope that A finds more than less of them. Nevertheless, I am still petrified of him starting kindergarten next year. However, I have recently learned of the positive influence peers can have (although its rarely spoken of.) For example, put my son in a daycare class of 25 other preschoolers and he does what he is told because everyone else is doing it. His behaviour at school is fairly compliant, cheerful and somewhat delightful. (At home, without this magical power of peers, his behaviour is... well, different.) I think my goal through his education journey will have to be to continue to search out and harness the positive power of peers... rather than hide in fear of all the damage they can do. And should I fail in my endevour than I will make changes that will be the most benefit to him.

Aliki2006 said...

I've learned that a lot of the schooling process is perfecting the art of finger-crossing...I'll be keeping mine crossed for Bub, too--I know there are wonderful teachers out there!

Jenifer said...

I can recall some of my most favourite and worshipped teachers quite easily. They are the adults who left their imprint on me forever. One of my English/Drama teachers had a hip vanity license plate that made a reference to a poem...I don't want to reveal it just in case he would still have the plate...anyway he was more than a teacher and I grateful for him.

Papoosie Girl has been blessed with the most amazing teacher this year and last and I fear we will never have a teacher quite like her. She is from England and one of her earliest students recently visited Canada and came to visit her...she is that wonderful.

I hope Bub finds that one special teacher to take his hand into the halls of learning.

Sue said...

Oh, I love this post. I love the teachers who worked so hard to really TEACH us stuff. It must be hard to work with high schoolers, who can be so incredibly know-it-all and obnoxious. It would be hard to show up, let alone to teach and inspire and lift.

painted maypole said...

i love when you can look back in a journal, or otherwise, and see a whole new level you missed before.

and punctuality and hard work are something that, sadly, are still often lacking in the theatre arts. I wish it was rewarded more often, because then those who don't practice it would learn to do so!!!

Angela said...

A good teacher makes so much difference. Glad you had a good one

realitytesting said...

I always feel blessed when I encounter a teacher like the one you describe. Sometimes, I feel they are too few and far between. And at other times, I think maybe we just don't pay enough attention or have enough time to discover them.

Haley-O said...

My sister and mom are high school teachers. And, they know the importance of their job! They always feel so rewarded when students come back and thank them. This is such a thoughtful, beautiful post (as usual). :)

MamaDrama said...

Teachers love gratitude, no matter how much later it occurs. That's what they bank on--that the kids will get it eventually!

We just discovered this book called "Perfect Man" by Troy Wilson, about a teacher who helps kids find their "superpowers" and it's wonderful. My beloved third grade teacher was the one who made me want to be a teacher myself.

We have lots of teachers in the family, and I still find myself anxiety-ridden any time my son gets a note home from preschool about "less-than-positive choices." And our kindergarten registration is January 14--I can barely even acknowledge it. Will they understand him? Will they forgive him his five-year-old-ness? And I know you have an entirely different barrel of worries. I will wish Bub the most compassionate, patient teacher that can be found in kindergartens anywhere...

nomotherearth said...

I was always ticked off by the students who thought drama class was a recreational break. I would have appreciated his handout.

Lisa b said...

I was always in trouble in drama class.
I think being a badly behaved student helps me be a better teacher.
Fingers crossed for you and bub.

wheelsonthebus said...

This is the hard part of being a teacher -- you never actually know about your impact on a student because the kid herself doesn't know for 20 years!

Julie Pippert said...

It's amazing the positive influence great teachers can be...even if we don't remember all the little details.

I hope Bub finds those good teachers. He will, actually, I'm sure, but up and down, in and out.

And you describe teen high school years the way I recall them, chirpy voiced overlay and all. But my "too angsty to write" periods weren't gaps. I logged those, too, LOL.

the dragonfly said...

A few years ago my mom ran into my third grade teacher (far and away the best teacher I had from the beginning of school through grade 7). My mom was smart enough to get her address, so my best friend and I (who were in her class together) wrote to her, to tell her how important she was to us, to thank her for her understanding way of teaching. And she wrote back to us, touched that we took the time to remember her. I was so glad I could do it!

Janet said...

I remember my mom telling me I would regret not getting involved in drama (or something, anything!) when I was in high school.

She was right. I hate when that happens.

Julie Pippert said...

OT P.S. B&P, I saw your good point to my resolution post. I didn't reply and I'm sorry about that because I wanted to. My thought is to address it as soon as I figure out how to elaborate on my "deal" with "specifics" and "expectations." Just wanted to let you know your point was well made and well taken. :)

Elizabeth said...

It's not too late to write to Mr. Rimbault. Teachers LOVE hearing from former students.

Luisa Perkins said...

It's a lovely tribute.

Mad Hatter said...

For me, it was the drama and English teacher, Mr Smith. I will always be grateful for him. His entire persona was a crafted character designed to light a spark in students like me.

edj said...

It's so true...it's amazing the difference a teacher can make in the life of a child. My kids have had some wonderful ones and some that, well, obviously wanted to be doing something else with their precious time.
Last year, Abel got the teacher I was literally praying that he wouldn't get. She had a reputation for being capricious, mean, and flakey. And, of course, she ended up being wonderful for him; helping him in his ongoing battle with concentration, patient in suggestions for upping his French vocab, etc. I loved her.

Laural Dawn said...

I loved some of my teachers. I think back on the ones who inspired me to do really well.
One in particular was a summer school English teacher. I will be forever grateful to him. (I later discovered that his brother is a colleague of my dad and wrote him a letter to thank him - it was given to him at Christmas on year, and apparently made him cry).
Matthew starts Junior kindergarten in September. I'm terrified.

Julie for WOW! said...

The beginning of each new year is a particularly good time to read such a heart warming story as we all contemplating the meaning of life. What really matters? Certainly, having a positive impact on others, such as your teacher did, should top the list.

Julie for WOW!

bren j. said...

It's always intriguing to me to reflect on past teachers. I went to a small private school and had the same teacher for grades 1-4. At the time, I thought she was a horrible, mostly wicked witch who tried to buy our love with ice cream cones on our walks back from the library. In retrospect, she was a fabulous teacher who, even if slightly dictatorial, always found a way to reward us for hard work well done. Our favourite treat was a visit from her grown daughter who would come in for an afternoon with her Newfoundland dog, Bear, and read us James Harriet stories while we fought over who would get to cuddle with Bear next. Sweet memories.

Occidental Girl said...

Well said. I think that the perspective of time is what deepens the experience. The only problem for most of us is that we don't have a journal to remind ourselves of what the real experience involved. Instead, we have vague memories of what is must have been like. It's cool that you have something so concrete.

Great teachers are to be valued! They are a wonderful, irreplaceable presence in young lives.