Dear Teacher

This blog is an open letter to my Year 11 English teacher.

Dear Teacher,

I have been meaning to get back in contact with you for some years now. In Year 12, I was still at our school but somehow never managed to pass you in the corridors. If I did, I was in a hurry to get to the next class. As you may well remember, trying to pause in the human wave of the B-corridor between periods is only slight more comfortable than the tsunami created in the dead-end locker block of my Year 10 cohort (actually, I think injuries sustained in that 5 metre part of the old C-E corridor connection is what prompted the school to build more outdoor locker bays). I was then swept up in the excitement of growing up - growing up and running away from my teenage years - starting university in the city and not turning back.

This year, I've really wanted to write to you. To tell you how much a year in your class has influenced me as a "grown-up". To say thank you because, while satisfactory teachers are easy to come by, the great ones like you are a needle in a haystack. As it turns out, finding you is also about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. I called the school and they don't know where you are these days. I confess I Googled you too. It turns out your name is pretty popular - and there's an author with your namesake!  I know being a teacher isn't an easy task. I thought it might be nice to find out how important your lessons have been. I guess I'm at a point in my life where I'm wanting to recognise the positive influences in my life - and you're one of them.

The biggest lesson I ever learnt from you was to write plans. You always loved my raw talent with writing (and I can say that here because that's what you told me!) but said that it lacked coherence. It probably still does but I do mentally or physically write plans these days.  I remember you sitting me down and explaining the importance of planning my essays, only to have me gasp and splutter at how that would destroy the creativity of my words. You smiled knowingly and said that plans are made to be broken. The act of making the plan will create a stronger framework on which I could work my literary magic. Somehow, you managed to both constructively criticize my work AND make me feel like a genius. I've taken this message on board with other areas of my life. I like to think about where I'll be in two days, five months, three years. I also don't mind at all if those plans change. Whatever happens happens. Just as the words will flow in the best way for the story, so too will the events in my life. Thank you.

Do you remember the one and only oral assessment we had? I can't even remember what I was talking about but I do remember that I didn't get full marks. I remember asking you quietly after class, once everyone else had left, why I had "lost" a mark. I wanted to know what I had done wrong. Many of my classes had grades standardised on the basis of my marks...which meant I often got 100% or higher (yeah, I know, right! Those were the days). In your wise way, you told me there was nothing "wrong" with my speech but that I could do better. That I sometimes go off on tangents...and I need to get back to the point. You also told me that you grade me on my ability, not on an average of the class. That one point represented how much I could grow - not how much I needed to fit into a bell curve.

A couple of days later, I remember one of the other students was doing her presentation on the War in Iraq. I remember the way I was trying REALLY hard to focus on what she was saying, despite her having no interest in doing the assessment (something she kindly stated at the beginning of her piece). I wanted to respect her presentation just as much as she had mine. Unfortunately for me, the boy that you and he both knew I liked had decided this was an opportune moment for checking whether the friend he'd asked for my number had given him the right one. Of course, I was unaware that he'd been given my number, it was wrong, and I was wildly trying to signal that we should all be paying attention to the presentation. I remember that you were sitting directly opposite me that day and you gave me this knowing wink. I'm pretty sure you found my awkward and flustered hand-waving far more interesting than the oral presentation too.

Speaking of that boy... We both know that he used one of my essays in an assessment once. I didn't actually know that was going to happen. You definitely showed your sense of humour in the result. You and I both know that this boy was a particularly bright spark. While many of the other students asked for my help with our course content, I tended not to give him as much tutoring because I knew he didn't really need it. I'd just forward on draft essays with a couple of dot-point suggestions. On this particular occasion, the essay I sent him was also the practice essay I'd sent you to see if I was on the right track with this whole "planning" thing. I remember you sending back some helpful hints and a "this deserves an A+." I remember writing my new essay under exam conditions, finishing up and that particular boy asking quietly "Did you write the essay you sent me for the test?" to which I replied "no." I did tell him that you had been sent a copy but he didn't seem to flummoxed. I was very amused that he'd gone to the trouble of memorising an entire essay instead of writing a new one. It's not that hard to string together a sentence! I was a little sad that my re-produced essay only got a B+ but I'm guessing you were stuck between a rock and a hilarious place on that one.

On the topic of rocks facing hard places, do you remember when you taught our class the word "juxtapose"? You used it for all of ten minutes before you realised we had no idea what you were on about. Your way of describing this new word involved drawing boulders on either side of the white board and running madly between them, texta at the ready, trying to get us excited about the English language. You'll be pleased to note that I use the word far more frequently than is at all necessary.

For the record, nothing ever happened with the boy but we do sporadically keep in contact. In case you're wondering where I ended up after school, the answer is far away. I did a three year degree with two of those bouncing between Melbourne and Sydney. I've now moved to Sydney and I'm studying Medicine. I'm constantly bouncing back to Melbourne or across the globe. I do miss writing. Sadly, I no longer seem capable of writing the completely outlandish, riddle-esque stories that peppered my high school career. My writing has become too realistic. I guess I lost some of my creativity along the way. I did make a life plan. I keep updating it because life keeps changing. I keep changing. Along this journey, though, your words have run deep and run clear.

Thank you for being the best teacher I ever had.
(And yes, I did proof-read this before publishing)


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