I remember my teachers #celebrateteachers #clmooc

I’m later than everyone else in responding to Kevin Hodgson’s invitation to #celebrateteachers which “Laura pitched as a game of tag” and so appropriate for #CLMOOC (the Making Learning Connected MOOC). (Thanks, Wendy, for blogging about this).That was a week ago. But the idea of remembering or celebrating teachers appealed to me so I thought better late than never.

I can remember some of the names of my teachers in primary school. Let’s see… nothing before grade 2 when I had Mrs Robinson. I remember odd bits and pieces about her. Her husband must have been called Neil because she often told us about what she did on the weekend with Neil. It took me a while to figure this out because I had been too busy wondering why she spent the weekend going places with the boy who sat in the front row (also Neil). I also remember that she sat next to me when we went to the movies to see Born Free (1966) and asked for half of my peanut butter sandwich (which I resentfully gave her). I don’t remember my grade 3 teacher’s name but I do remember that the first thing she did on our first day was write the word ‘honesty’ in big letters on the blackboard, and talk about how highly she valued honesty above everything else. Grade 4 – Mr Quilty. I don’t want to write what I remember about him so we’ll skip that.

In secondary school I remember quite a few teachers, especially my French teacher whose classes were so much fun through songs, poetry, film, discussions and conversations about everything French.

The teacher I want to celebrate is not someone who was all sweetness and smiles. In fact she gave me a lot of grief throughout the time she taught me – from early primary to late secondary. She was my Russian teacher both privately and at the Saturday school for Russian language and culture. Until I was 9 my cousin and I had private Russian lessons at her house, and she favoured him and criticised me. I was a scapegoat. My narrow handwriting was a sign of a mean character, I had no taste, my Russian was inferior, and so on. Returning from a trip to Russia, she brought presents, and I was to choose from two things. The one I chose clearly indicated my lack of good taste, and when I changed my mind and chose the other one, I had chosen the one she had wanted for herself. At about the age of 9 I’d had enough and had a meltdown, telling her that I hated her guts. When my mother came to pick me up both of us were crying, and my teacher was asking my mother what she could have possibly done to be on the receiving end of such an outburst. It was decided I would return to the Saturday school and be part of her class. I was relieved to take refuge in a group of students and no longer be the subject of so much attention.

People are complex. We all have good and bad in us. I also remember my Russian teacher speaking passionately about literature she loved with her whole being. She didn’t care about keeping to class time limits when she was trying to inspire us about literature, art, Russian culture. She spent countless hours preparing us for Russian concerts and plays, working with us privately to perfect pronunciation and tone, gesture and facial expression. She designed costumes, making sure they were historically correct, she painted sets, she drew large portraits of writers, poets, musicians to accompany her speeches at our annual days of Russian culture. She lived and breathed her work and her passion, her work and her identity were one.

As difficult as it was to forgive and try to forget the ways she treated me when I was younger, it was also difficult not to be impressed by her and be in awe of her during my secondary school years. She left a permanent impression on me. She was someone whose passion for literature and art played out her entire life.

In her later years I grew to love her, and she was fond of me. I visited her on and off when she had moved out of Melbourne and she asked to see me. She was still extremely passionate, relentless in her expectations of people, but had mellowed over the years. In her early 90s she was diagnosed with cancer and I visited her a couple of times. It was understood that I wasn’t to feel sorry for her and that life was just taking its course. I remember she made sure she kept up with world events, mapping them out on a hand drawn map of the world she pinned to her wall. She passed on to me books she treasured, art prints she had collected in a folder and other bits and pieces. Finally, with little time left to live, she asked to see me for the last time and said goodbye with a fairly steady voice. I remembered the times in my adolescence when she had read out aloud from literature, tears streaming down her face, and yet now she was almost completely composed.

People are complex. She taught me many things including an appreciation for the Russian language and its culture, but perhaps the most important thing was that none of us can really be easily or completely understood, and that we are not perfect.  As much as we might prefer to stick to the idea of people being nice and predictable, easily understood, most of us aren’t. By the time I had forgiven her, by the time I grew to love her and her eccentricities, her all-consuming passions, I had come a little closer to accepting the darker side of people in general, including myself.

Teachers can make a difference in our lives beyond what they try to teach us.


6 thoughts on “I remember my teachers #celebrateteachers #clmooc”

  1. “People are complex”
    A very powerful post, thanks.
    What is remarkable about your post is the detail of your memory.
    This always fascinates me but I think it also explains the richness and diversity
    of some of your other work that I have read (only recently). Richness in writing doesn’t just have to do with memory but also the ability to incorporate detail and experiences and stories together.
    I’m also thinking about memory loss and brain loss.
    I think the story of Christine Bryden is amazing http://www.christinebryden.com/christine-now/
    One thing she describes is the difficulty of everyday life when you just can’t remember how to do things. I see from her website that she has her 4th book due out this year. A survivor indeed!
    However I think that having an explicit, precise memory can also create some baggage that can make life heavy at times. I was touched by the honesty of the teacher you “don’t want to write what you remember”. This is still a burden.
    On the flip side is those that have experienced trauma and their memory is wiped for that particular time. This seems to be a self-preservative streak. I wonder if we always look into our memories for happy things (well, naturally, I’m saying to myself).
    When I feel like some light reading (not) I turn to this book in my book shelf “The Anatomy of Memory: An Anthology” http://www.amazon.com/The-Anatomy-Memory-An-Anthology/dp/0195078411.
    It’s incredible and humbling how much this function of our brain means (or creates meaning) to us. There is a whole section of “Childhood and the Middle Years” and this is where we are pulling our memories for this exercise. It reminds me that awareness of what our memory can produce can look different when recorded (verbal or written) but we need to be gentle with ourselves.
    These are just some thoughts that your post has evoked.
    (This is my recipro8 ticket 2/3 for this week)

    1. Wendy, thank you so much for writing this out. I’m amazed at what my post evoked. And now I’m processing your thoughts and keen to investigate your links. It’s wonderful how rich blog interaction can be. I’m trying to ‘teach’ this to my students whose comments are short and finite. I guess it’s not that easy for adolescents to take part in what we are only just learning to do.

      Memory – such a fascinating part of our brain. As I wrote the post I was aware that it had become my story, with me selecting, over the years, what stood out and what was left out. It’s my truth but it’s not ‘the’ truth.

      What is a recipro8 ticket? I missed this.

    1. Thanks, Kevin. Yes, I can view it. And now I know about Google Collections thanks to you. Thank you for initiating so many good things, really appreciate it.

  2. This post really reminds me of how easy it is for folks to want to categorize people as one thing or another, when really we are all good and bad, smart and stupid, kind and mean at many levels, some levels minute, some huge. What a beautiful and poignant description of your relationship with a truly multi-dimensional and fascinating person.

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