Constance Alexander: High School English Teachers – Don’t Go Easy On This Goodnight
There was at least one in every high school, the unwavering English teacher who guided students out of the abyss of grammatical and literary ignorance to the heights of intellectual acumen and written accuracy. They did their job with passion, intimidating and cajoling us to improve, appreciate and ultimately savor the words that lift off the page, giving true meaning to the term “Language Arts”.
Years after we’ve toiled in their missions – some of us fighting their crusades against such infractions as split infinitives and comma splice – these are the ones we belatedly remember and thank for their zeal. .
At my high school, more than fifty years after their retirement, Miss Haitsch, Mr. Morgan and Miss Anker remain the most popular English teachers at Metuchen High School, as evidenced by responses to a recent Facebook post.
In terminale, the divine Mademoiselle H. made us memorize the Prologue at Canterbury Tales in Middle English, a feat that many can still recite, verbatim. She also enjoyed teaching Shakespeare, leaving some of us feeling like she had a bit of Lady Macbeth hidden behind the red lipstick and curly pageboy headdress. Although she gave us ample opportunity to act out behind her back, she somehow earned our respect by drawing us into her world during class.
The junior year was American Lit. with John Morgan who, according to Susan Urmey, gave “challenging but thoughtful writing homework”. Some alumni remember the prompts for the bi-weekly tryouts. Steve Ossad said: “One friend in life is a lot, two is a lot, three is barely possible.” Bob Stokes remembers having to analyze a quote from Nietzsche: “All truth is simple. Isn’t that a double lie?
Another MHS alum, George Coss, made English teacher Miss Anker and “all the other 9-12s pretty useless”, saying a college technical writing course was more relevant to his interests. He went on to assert a consistent preference for biographies and history, rather than “the so-called classics”.
Laurie Malpass Edminster, a seasoned and gifted English teacher at Murray High School, needed no prodding to reflect on her former teachers and what she learned from them. “My 10-12 teachers were fabulous,” she claimed, adding that there were too many readings to post them all. “But I was so inspired by my high school English teachers that I became one myself,” she said.
Many of the memorable reads fell into the classics category, including The great gatsby, grapes of wrath, their eyes looked at godShakespeare’s stories and tragedies, Great Expectations, Beowulf, The Scarlet Letter, Silas Marner, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Stranger, The Brothers Karamazov, And the list continues.
High school English was not just about reading and writing essays and research papers. Kentucky writer Lynn Pruett remembered Ms Clarke, who “taught us grammar and let me write creative articles instead of direct criticism”.
Susan Page Tillett, recently retired writer and executive director of the Mesa Refuge, an artists’ community in the San Francisco Bay Area, described her English teacher, Mr. Scott, as “brilliant, young and passionate about the work… and about us.”
Tillett remembers feeling “deeply seen and heard. He taught me to develop my response to reading with clarity and relate it to what I was thinking and experiencing at the time.
Librarian extraordinaire Linda Hunt Bartnik found Senior English most memorable because of TS Eliot. Other favorites were Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Sonnets and William Butler Yeats. The most exciting thing was being able to read your own stories to the class. When she looked up and realized they were listening, it made a big impression. “That moment had a huge impact on me,” she said.
Growing up in Louisiana, Kathryn Coon Harper had Mrs. Bower, whose phrase diagrams “resembled Indiana Jones’ Holy Grail chase cards. One-Sentence Diagram,” Harper explained, “has actually worked for my right-brain way of learning. “
Readers whose high school wasn’t that far away added further thoughts on English teachers. Cassidy Zirkel, a Texan who attended Murray State’s Commonwealth Honors Academy about five years ago, enjoyed the books she read in Marcella Rokicki Hayden’s class. However, it was even more important “to learn to respect different thoughts, feelings, beliefs and values. She taught us more than any other class about being great humans,” Zirkel concluded.
Kristen Oakley credits Murray State teachers for undoing some of the negative lessons in high school English classes. “I think the most damaging thing I learned in English in high school was that there was a right way to interpret a work of literature. We were kind of taught with the state of mind that there was always an interpretation of a work that we were meant to understand and arrive at, and that design was definitely out the window once I got to MSU,” she said.
As teachers leave the profession at a record rate and vacancies multiply, one wonders if future graduates will be able to boast of all they learned in high school. English teachers and librarians are particularly criticized for guiding young adults to think for themselves.
A surprising example, reported in the daily there, is former Kentucky Teacher of the Year from rural Montgomery County, Willie Carver, who resigned because the school administration caved to ridiculous and unfounded allegations by parents. For example, when Carver showed a TedTalk by “a woman…that looked masculine,” a parent objected because their child said, “they make us watch trans people.”
The presenter, according to Carver, was not trans.
A parent also objected to a reading because it was by a black author.
Another problem arose because of a quiz he gave where students had to identify whether a quote was from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche or a lyric from Dolly Parton that stated, “It’s a good thing I was born a girl. , otherwise I would be a drag queen. ”
Carver’s departure from teaching at a public high school comes at a time when teacher shortages are having an increasingly negative impact on rural schools, according to a brief released by the National Conference of State Legislators. Not only are enrollments in teacher education programs down, but thirty-nine percent of schools more than 25 miles from an urban center are struggling to fill vacancies.
Author’s note: A follow-up post will include additional responses to the Facebook query about memories of high school English class.