Thank you to my high school teacher, Mrs. Church
This week (May 2-May 6 2016) is Teacher Appreciation Week. With yesterday being Teacher Appreciation Day, it got me thinking about a very influential high school teacher in my life, Mrs. (Jeanne) Church.
I’ve always loved learning, but I think I had a good understanding of what works for that when I was quite young. My parents are educators, and that was the family business.
I think like a lot of people, I was smart enough for high school, liked parts of the high school experience, and didn’t always get great grades. If something was somewhat non-structured, I did well. If you were supposed to follow specific rules, that didn’t always work for me (although I am a rule follower now…not sure about that conflict).
It particularly dismayed me when I came to the conclusion that the way English was generally being taught was slowing down my reading speed. There was a lot of emphasis on the micro, and not so much on the meta. When you took a test, you had to know who did what when…not why they did it. The tests were, perhaps, more about proving that you’d read the book than that you understood it.
However, I was lucky enough in my high school that we could take some “electives”.
One of those was Science Fiction (I think it might have been the History of Science Fiction, actually), taught by Jeanne Church.
There were maybe eight to ten of us in the class. We were pretty much social misfits…we weren’t the jocks or the brains or the theatre people or the popular kids or the stoners or the hippies or the radicals. We were used to what we read (Heinlein, Asimov, Burroughs, Piers Anthony, and many more) being dismissed by our English teachers.
Mrs. Church was different. It wasn’t that Mrs. Church just embraced science fiction. It was that it was respected in that room…which meant that we studied it. We looked at the evolution of science fiction, and the influence. It wasn’t treated with less or more respect than a more traditional literature class would have done.
I learned that evaluation and enjoyment can go together: that you don’t have to analyze the life out of something, but that you can learn more through examination of something you love.
I remember discussing the same books together, but also being given a broad range of titles from which to read, and being able to argue for reading titles of our choice.
This class wasn’t just about reading, though. We formed a science fiction club, with Mrs. Church as the requisite sponsor. We eventually were given a small store room, like a closet, which we used for a library (I was the club librarian). Perhaps just as importantly, we wrote. We published a magazine…two different ones over time, as I recall. We actually sold Paradox-1…for 50 cents a copy.
That was my first experience as a writer for the public. We had an editor (that wasn’t me). We had discussions about the title, the appearance, the lay-out.
Not every teacher would have done that.
I also appreciate that Mrs. Church would correct me. I remember once saying that I was “raised in the South” (I lived in Virginia until I was four years old), and Mrs. Church saying (in a put on Southern accent), “Cotton is raised, you were reared.” 😉
I can’t guarantee that this recollection is correct, but my memory is that Mrs. Church was being given a short ride around the parking lot on a student’s motorcycle and fell off and suffered a head injury that may have ended classroom teaching (and perhaps it did something worse, I don’t remember for sure). Not everybody wore helmets back then, and this was impromptu.
I owe a lot to Mrs. Church. When I was being turned off school and literary analysis, Mrs. Church was an inspiration. I learned that discipline and devotion can walk hand in hand. I learned that being respected doesn’t mean being coddled. I learned that science fiction was a worthy type of literature, with a long history. I learned to work with others in creative endeavors, which is a difficult lesson indeed.
Thank you, Mrs. Church, for all you did that you didn’t have to do.
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