Going back to school was my favorite time of year. I loved choosing new notebooks, the perfect pen and the perfect material in which to cover my textbooks. Through all of that, what never crossed my mind was who my teachers would be.
I attended a very small parochial school in Dallas, Texas, from preschool through eighth grade. (How small, you ask? In my eighth grade there were 12 students, and I was the only girl.) I had the same teachers throughout all of those years and we developed some strong bonds – my kindergarten and sixth grade teacher (she changed grades somewhere in the middle) even attended my wedding last year.
For high school, I went to Woodrow Wilson, which is public and in a beautiful historic building. I was part of the show choir, in the musicals, became a captain of our drill team (one of the few high-kicking drill teams left in the nation) and even made the varsity golf team.
While I remember creating my dream house in 3-D in the seventh grade (memorable primarily because I got the measurements wrong and all of my rooms were three feet wide); celebrating not making it to state for the one-act play my junior year by dancing in a parking lot and singing at the top of our lungs; and my friend Sean coming to lift me off of the top of a staircase on wheels and on to his shoulder after opening night of Crazy for You because the lights had gone off and we couldn’t see where we were going; there are very few moments within classrooms that are memorable.
There are two teachers, however, whose ability to impart knowledge and experience are still with me to this day – though neither are teaching anymore.
Mr. Marinko is why I do what I do today. It was the fifth grade and he taught us to diagram sentences (I know, I’m a nerd). Beyond teaching us the correct ways in which to use grammar, he also taught us why. Why one word should come before another and why this language has developed into what it is today. He taught me to question when I’m told “it must be this way only,” and to look for ways to enhance the way I write and speak by knowing when to break the rules.
Monty Holomon was one of those rare teachers that made you feel like he was on your side. His was the only classroom that didn’t have any windows on the door. He took students to Paris every other summer. We learned French by immersion, translating music by ear from Edith Piaf LPs and writing papers on historic figures. Beyond teaching us French, he showed us another way to think about the world. He showed us films that had nothing to do with French class to teach us that whether or not we liked them, we could still appreciate their art. He taught us about art, mostly modern, and how to identify the artist by brush strokes and color patterns. And he taught us to trust ourselves, our perspectives and our opinions, but to truly listen when other people don’t agree and use their opinions to either change or strengthen our own.
All of this to say that as I watch children walking into classrooms for the first time, I hope that they enjoy their new notebooks, extracurricular activities and creating memories. But more than that, I hope that they’re lucky enough to have teachers who go outside what’s prescribed and teach them the whys of life, the possibilities it offers and how to be a more involved and conscientious human being.