Sunday, July 22

Talking about the Summer???

It's probably no surprise that my favorite subjects in school all had to do with reading and writing. But I wasn't always an A student in every subject. In fourth grade, having transferred midyear to a new school, my science teacher sent a note home saying, "Lauren doesn't seem to have a clue as to what is going on." And later, in high school, I had one teacher tell me I'd never go anywhere in life because I couldn't take proper instruction. A guidance instructor at the same school, dismayed that I'd only applied to three colleges, all of them good colleges, urged me to apply as well to a rinky-dink school. Clearly, he didn't believe I'd get into any of the places I'd chosen. Well, I refused to apply to the rinky-dink school, telling him if I couldn't get into any of my three choices I didn't want to go anywhere. I got into all three, proving that sometimes people's low opinions of you are just plain wrong. And I would add that one of life's best revenges against naysayers is to go on to be a success in your chosen field. My chosen field is writing, and while I may not have the commercial success of a Meg Cabot or the literary success of an Ian McEwan, I've had seven books published since 2003 with at least five more due out in 2008, making me feel successful enough, even if it's just me thinking that.

But returning to my favorite subject in school, I did indeed love English and I used to get a thrill at the idea that homework could actually consist of reading great books, and I loved writing. I often credit my eighth-grade English teacher with first putting the idea in my head that I could be a writer. We'd been given an assignment to write stories that had to use three seemingly disparate elements - a priest, a nun and a camel - and I wrote a steamy little tale ala The Thorn Birds. My teacher liked it so much, he had me read it to the class three days straight, which probably made them get sick of it but did succeed in making me believe that maybe I had stories to tell that people would want to hear. Later, in high school, a school where I was mostly classified as a loser because I refused to fit neatly into any one defined group, I took the one Creative Writing course they offered. Again, a teacher fell in love with one of my stories, only in this instance she was the one who read it aloud. My classmates loved that story and it was only after she'd read it that the teacher revealed I was the writer. I could feel thirty heads swivel in my direction. Did it make me instantly popular? No. But every time we were in that class, every time I ran into any of those thirty kids outside of that class, I would catch them looking at me differently. Apparently, they were seeing something more in me than what they'd seen before.

Writing, reading - no one will ever convince me you can be good at the former if you haven't done a lot of the latter. And my favorite reading experience in school? Discovering Shakespeare. It wasn't a direct journey. In high school, we read one or two plays, but it was tough to get excited about anything that came with so many footnotes. Then, in college, I signed up for Shakespeare I. The professor was just plain awful. He'd come to class and just read from his podium - he was not a good reader - doing nothing to bring the material to life. It was only by some grace of the universe that I'd signed up for Shakespeare II before realizing how much I wasn't enjoying myself and then being too lazy to drop the second class. Good thing. My new professor was one of those magical teachers everyone should encounter at least once during their education. He made it all come alive. He made me see Merchant of Venice clearly - not as an anti-Semitic play, but rather as the indictment of the prejudiced Europe of its time that it is. He made me want to sit at a table with Falstaff and Hal, raising a tankard to England. And when he closed out The Tempest with its Epilogue, "But release me from my bands, With the help of your good hands...As you from crimes would pardon'd be/Let your indulgence set me free" - Shakespeare's plea for the audience to put their hands together and clap him into retirement - I listened with tears in my eyes, sad that the plays and the class and my time with this magificent teacher were at an end, happy that I'd been granted the opportunity to take the journey. My love of Shakespeare didn't end there - indeed, I used money from my first paycheck upon graduation to purchase the one-volume complete set of The Globe Shakespeare that I still have twenty-four years later. My love for the Bard has never wavered and I fully accept Harold Bloom's thesis that Shakespeare invented us.

So what are the morals of my ramblings today:

1) you don't have to accept other people's low opinion of your potential

2) a good teacher can make all the difference in the world

And now I've gassed on enough for one day, so if you will let your indulgence set me free, I'll simply close with the questions:



Wanza Leftwich, The Gospel Writer said...

I was just talking about how a good teacher can make a difference in your life. I will remember my 6th grade teacher forever. He gave me a love for reading and research. He made education fun.

Alyson Noel said...

Hey Lauren-
My favorite class was English—no contest. I had the most amazing AP English teacher both my junior and senior years, and like you, he read one of my stories to the class one day and IT CHANGED EVERYTHING! Years later, when my debut novel, Faking 19, was published I thanked him in the acknowledgments and dropped by the school to give him a copy—he retired the following years so I was just in time!

TJ Brown said...

Psychology and Sociology. Because of the teacher. But honestly, I was a rebel and hated school. I was once sent to the office because I was studying for a psych exam in my math class. Still don't understand why. I knew I was never going to pass math, and I was gunning for an A in psych! I wanted to read my history book, not study it and wait for the others. Didn't they know what great stories it contained? Yeah, high school was pretty much frustrating for me!

Brian Mandabach said...

My fav subject was English, too. Though I also dug biology.

I love that it was your 8th grade English teacher who inspired you, or at least recognized your talent!! That's my job, and I'm glad that with you, somebody did it. It inspires you that I might make a difference . . .

Sara Hantz said...

There was not a lot I liked about school - espcially the teachers. But, of the two who made an impact on me they were both English teachers.

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

Algebra and Geometry were gibberish in my head. *sigh* But I did have my strong subjects! :)

Anonymous said...

Dance and English.

I had a great English teacher my senior year in high school (I continue to thank her in my author bio), so I was lucky, too. In my Humanities class during the 7th grade, I had a t eacher read a poem I write, but she never said who wrote it. I kinda sat there at my desk and beamed to beat the band when she read it. It was kinda cool holding the secret. LOL.

And my dance teacher--Mrs. Hollernach, Miss Holly for short--was the bomb diggity. I had to give it up my second semester because I failed one of my classes. Pissed me off, too, but for the semester I took it, I was in dance heaven.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Sorry to be remiss in responding to comments. Life/work gets in the way sometimes, but thanks to everyone who responded.

Brian, never doubt the worth of what you do. Four years ago my cousin, who was 16 years older than me, died suddenly from cancer. He'd taught 8th grade American History in the Monrie school system for over 20 years. More people showed up for his wake than I've ever seen at such an occasion before. When I say there were over 1000 people who came through the receiving line, it's no exaggeration. And the people who came through? Some were colleagues, but most were students, past and present. There were even several times when a parent and child would come through, telling me he'd taught both of them. He touched so many lives.

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