The gift of literature by markie mann
I was 14 years old when I met her. Her class had so many things on the wall you could no longer see the blinding white brick. Michigan football posters of everyone from players to coaches, posters from French plays and the date George W. Bush was scheduled to leave presidential office. She wore vibrantly bright colored clothing, sweaters featuring Christmas themes, cats playing with balls of yarn. She wore jewelry so large and chunky that it seemed as though she should be dragging neck behind her. She smelled of vanilla perfume and smoke so heavily her brand new classroom smelled of her even when she was not in school. Her voice was raspy and rough, it made the first day of class very intimidating as it reminded me of some stereotypical smoker's tone used in anti-smoking commercials. She was surely not your run of the mill English teacher. She was very eccentric, she once came into school crying about a football coach’s death, although she didn’t know him personally. She was also often known to wear her sunglasses all day in school without feeling out of place. Often times it looked like a toy store blew up in her room, spraying stuffed animals and nick-knacks everywhere. Her eccentricity was only highlighted by her diehard devotion to the University of Michigan's football team. I am almost positive that she would have painted the walls maize and blue if our school district would have allowed it. While her classroom decor was relaxed and fun, she was a hard teacher who was not afraid to tell snot-nosed kids what was going to be accomplished in her class. Her name was Mrs. S. She was my English Composition 1 teacher. I had her at the last block of the day, when she was wound up from lunch and was not ready to take any teenage attitude.
Before I had her as a teacher, I hated literature, reading, writing and didn’t understand why the teachers would waste our time with this nonsense. I immediately wanted to run from her classroom the first day when I walked into class and saw the towering stacks of books being passed out to the students. Writing was so difficult for me. I could not write anything of my own and could only regurgitate information from book to paper, word for word. On the first day of class we were told that we were going to answer a worksheet about ourselves. We were told we would do this every semester, and get them back at the end of the year to track our progress throughout her class. The questions written on that worksheet were personal: who were my friends? Who I wanted to be? Who I was? The answers flowed out of my pencil with ease. I wrote on the back as well because I had so much to say. Just writing about who i was and who I wanted to be made me feel at ease about my transition into high school which had worried me previously. This is when I realized that writing was not only fun, but it could be therapeutic. I could say anything I wanted, and no one else could look at it except me. It was invigorating to be able to see my progress throughout the year with my writing and how I had grown and changed.
After this exercise, Mrs. S made fellow class mates and I about the literature we were going to read during the school year. My heart dropped. I did not want to read, I just wanted to write. We were starting with the book To Kill a Mockingbird the following week. The first assignment was to read two chapters and I convinced myself I could not do it, which was reading the first two chapters. Those chapters seemed to be the longest I have ever read in my life. When I returned to class, Mrs. S started speaking with my fellow students and I about the book. I realized that for the first time in my life I had actually remembered what I read two whole days after I read it. She talked to us about how the author, Harper Lee, actually based the characters off of people in her life. I am not sure if the personal element sparked my interest, but I began to fall in love with this beautiful piece of literature. I read the whole book in ten days after this. I devoured and conquered this book. I felt as though I could scream about my success from the mountain tops. Me, Markie, who was the one who always tried to sit in the back of the class to be avoid being called on under the pressure of my classmates, not only finished this book, I kicked that reading assignment in the shins. One raise of the eyebrow by Mrs. S told that the student that she was definitely on the right track to answering the question presented. This small eyebrow movement gave me a boost of confidence that was really needed when I felt as though I had no idea what I was talking about.
The book was finally finished and I was ready to master another classic. My hopes of devouring the next book over the long Christmas break were shattered as soon as I heard one simple name, "Shakespeare". The class started to read the play Romeo and Juliet. For the first five minutes, as it Mrs. S read aloud my eyes were crossing and my brain was smoking. It had looked like a totally foreign language to me. I could not get through the first act, let alone the whole play. I struggled to understand this play as we read it in class aloud, but I just could not. After we finished the first few pages, Mrs. S talked with us about the play, which really helped translate some of the language in the play I had struggled with. I was always convinced that Mrs. S had secret Jedi mind powers like those featured in the movie Star Wars. One more raise of the eyebrow and I knew what I was trying to be conveyed to me. The other students and I were given some questions to answer about the play that we had read that day. I didn’t even need to look at the play, I answered every one with the pride knowing that I finally felt as though I was good at one subject in school, this was the best feeling in the world.
Mrs. S had a serious love for literature that was extremely inspiring to her students. Whether she was aware of her powers to mold students, I don’t know but she did. She had a way in which she would ask you about the events in the reading. Her ways of making you think without realizing your thinking was an amazing gift that she was gifted to have. Despite her eccentricity or maybe because of it, she gave me a new love in my life: literature. I was now a lean mean writing and reading machine. She also gave me one more gift I didn’t realize until just last year, the push into my studies in college.
Ultimately, I am going to become a cognitively impaired special education teacher, and I think it is Mrs. S’s absolute love for teaching her class that made me want to help other lost students like myself. I wanted to spark the love for literature in others as she sparked the love for me. I aspire to one day have such an appreciation for literature as she did, and this is the reason I decided to become a secondary English teacher before accomplishing my ultimate goal. I am sure that she did not know she could make a person as passionate about a subject that she taught to someone who was a freshman in high school, and have that subject stick with them leading up into their career choice. I never told Mrs. Smith about the passion she invoked, but I am really happy that she did.