No, I didn’t forget.
Today’s memory challenge is inspired by the fact that I have recently made contact with one of my favorite teachers from high school, Mr. Foster. I had him for several years when I was at Mt. Diablo High School. He was one of 4 English/Creative Writing teachers that had an impact on me. And since he was the last one I had in high school, I guess it was up to him to finish what the other three started. And he did.
So this week I am going to see what I remember about teachers. Not everyone I ever had but those that made an impression on me.
Elementary School was Williams Elementary, close enough to walk or ride my bike once I was old enough.
Mrs. Keller, my German kindergarten teacher who spoke German to us right along with English and instilled an early love of that language. she was big, and round and could 4 kids at once so no one ever felt left out.
Mrs. Oswald, my second grade teacher who embarrassed me with the mouse incident.
I’m not sure what grade but I think it was Mrs. McMullen’s class where I brought the starfish in for show and tell and it dried out and stunk up the whole class. Everyone made fun of me but she came up with some science lesson around it and helped me save face.
The 6th grade teacher when I was in 4th grade who might have really known my dad but I was too afraid to admit we were related.
Mr. Nisonger, my 6th grade teacher. I think half the girls had crushes on him but I remember him most because he talked me into going out for the girl’s softball team and I loved it.
7th and 8th grade was Glenbrook Middle school.
Mr. Friss was the German teacher who also was the backup organist at the church we didn’t go to regularly anymore. He also taught calligraphy class but I was never allowed to take it. It wasn’t “practical” enough for my mom.
Mrs. Hackett and Mrs. Welch were both at that school and they really got me interested in writing, made me editor of the school paper, and encouraged my talent and love of working with words.
High school was Mt. Diablo for 9th, 11th and 12th grade and Ygnacio Valley for 10th grade. For the dumbest of all possible reasons and because my mom had moved us out of my grandmother’s house for a year and we lived on the border, I switched high schools for a year because of the boy I was dating. Big mistake because when I came back to Mt. Diablo everyone thought I had left because I was pregnant. (Times were different back then.)
I don’t remember many teachers from 9th grade except for Mrs. Armstrong, the gym teacher who was also the track coach and who helped me fall in love with running. She even let me try hurdles though I was way too short to be any good at it. I was fast though for the sprints though I never did beat Susan Hewlett. Oh, and there was Mr. Macomber, the English teacher, who had us write a biography of our lives up until that point and who wrote on the very last page of mine that I should ask my mom about taking me to see a shrink. I still have that and when I reread it, I can’t see what he saw in there to give him that idea.
In 10th grade at Ygnacio there was Mr. Gisch, the math teacher, who told me I better get really good at something else because I was really no good at math at all. There was Mr. Ashlock, the science teacher, who let us do really off the wall science projects like sing songs about pollution. And there was Mr. Sillonis, the creative writing teacher who made us grade ourselves, who sat in the sink in the portable classroom and encouraged us to bring things from our other worlds to share in class. I brought my skates to class and he moved all the desks so I could do a demonstration. He was big on writing what we knew but it was many years before I ever got that message.
Back at Mt. Diablo there weren’t that many teachers that I can remember for 11th or 12th grade. Only Mr. Foster stands out in my mind. I took as many creative writing classes as I was allowed, always anxious to see what unusual writing exercises he would come up with for us. He challenged us to look at simple things and describe them in unusual ways. He pushed us to take chances with our words. And he encouraged me to write as much as I possibly could because the more I wrote, the better my writing would become. I still have some of my handwritten pages from his class and when I look at them, I am instantly transported back in time, sitting in that awkward, too small desk, staring at the pictures he flashed up on the wall while trying to think of how to describe a lemon if I didn’t already know it was a lemon.
What teachers from childhood stand out in your mind?
Because a teacher has a starring role in my new book project I wanted to give a shout out to some very special teachers in my past. I might have found my way to writing without them, but I am sure they had a hand in helping me find the path I was meant to walk.
So turn the clock back to when my name was Susan Webb and . . .
At Glenbrook Middle School (Concord California) I had two English teachers who unlocked the door for me; Vicki Hackett (now at Northgate high school) and Joyce Welch (I wish I knew where she was). They read my words and told me I had talent. They encouraged me to keep writing. I became the editor of the school paper. I wrote plays for the class to perform. I stayed after school just to sit in that old school desk in an environment that celebrated words, my words, and wrote and wrote and wrote. It was there, I am sure, that my writer self was born.
At Ygnacio Valley High School (the last year before it split off into Northgate) I had Robert Sillonis for creative writing. Our classroom was out in a portable at the edge of the school and it felt like a world apart from all the other classes. He encouraged creativity in ways that I had never experienced. Kids brought things into class, things they were good at, and did demonstrations. I brought in my roller skates and tried to show them what I did at the rink every day after school. We kept a portfolio of our writing long before they were fashionable in the classroom and we gave ourselves grades on our work at the end of the quarter. Mr. Sillonis said that he rarely had to lower a grade a student gave themself but often had to raise it. Mr. Sillonis was the first one to tell me to dig deep and write the truth but it would be years before I was a brave enough writer to actually do so. Whenever someone comments on me writing the truth, I think about him. After a year at Ygnacio Valley I went back to Mt. Diablo High School (also in Concord, California for anyone keeping track) and had Chuck Foster who continued the push that Mr. Sillonis had started. From him I learned the importance of playing with words and trying to not take myself too seriously. (I would love to find out where he is too. I think I heard he moved to Washington when he retired but that’s all I know.)
So thank you to the teachers who have encouraged me over the years. I appreciate the extra effort you made to help me believe in my right to write.
What teachers have mattered to you or helped shape your writing self?