Saturday, August 2, 2008

In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years. ~Jacques Barzun

I had an English teacher named Miss Wieseke in my Junior year of high school. Almost 40 years ago. She wasn't a popular teacher. In fact, she was one of those older old-fashioned teachers who kind of blended into the chalkboard behind her. She was a tough grader. A very tough grader. She didn't play favorites. She just...taught. And a very good teacher she was.

I say she didn't play favorites and she didn't. But if she saw potential in you, she let you know in very subtle ways. I remember one time, after reading "Death of a Salesman", our writing assignment was to take one of the characters from the play and write a character study of them. I wrote about Biff, I think the character's name's been so many years ago, I really don't remember now. But I wrote it. I turned it in. And a few days later in class Miss Wieseke announced she was going to read the best character study she'd gotten in a long time. And, much to my shock - and even more to my pleasure - she began reading mine. When she finished, she never once looked in my direction but she chastised the rest of the class on their lack of detail, their lack of making the characters they chose alive. A few days after that, when the papers were passed back to us, there at the top of mine was a big "A+". That grade meant a lot to me. Miss Wieseke didn't pass out "A's" very often, let alone "A+'s".

I was a very troubled kid in high school. Not a trouble maker. But I had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life at home. I'd moved around and by my Junior year I was attending my 5th school in 5 years. Outside of my best friend Lizzee, whom I'd met early on in Junior High, I hadn't made many friends. I'd been uprooted from a small home town I loved with more friends than I knew what to do with to a much larger city and I was way out of my element. I don't think I ever fully recovered, not until I graduated from high school and set out into my 'real' life. I don't know what Miss Wieseke observed as she watched me in class. But also, in my Junior year, I received a letter telling me I'd been selected to be a participant in the "People to People" program. A program where I'd travel to Europe for 6 weeks, visiting several countries and actually staying with real families for a few days in each country. Oh my. For a quiet girl with a writer's heart and an imagination to go along with it, this was a dream come true. But reality brought me back down to earth with a thud. My father had been in an industrial accident at work earlier in the year and was disabled from his previous job...he was going to school to learn a new trade. My mother had begun working outside the home to help make ends meet. There was a lot of strife. A lot of bickering and fighting. And, most importantly in my case, no money. Even tho my parents would've loved to have been able to send me, it just wasn't going to happen. Ah well.

The thing of it is, a teacher was the one who had to nominate students they thought worthy for this program. And I know...I my heart that Miss Wieseke was the one who nominated me. And even tho the disappointment of not being able to go was bitter, I've always had the honor of knowing I was nominated. I thank her for that.

And all these years later, I think I break every grammar rule she tried to beat into our brains. I write fragments of thought. I start my sentences with "and" and "but" and "well". But she encouraged my love for words, for learning, for reaching outside of the box and grabbing on to my dreams. And I have never forgotten her.

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