September Listography | No. Twenty-Four
1. Mrs. Trimble — 1st grade: I barely even remember that year, and I can’t recall her face at all, but I’ve never forgotten her name. I have this sense that she instilled in me the love of learning. And that she encouraged my intelligence and developed my talents for spelling and reading. Maybe I’m just giving her the credit for what other teachers did afterward, or maybe she really is responsible for teaching me to retain sentences in my mind even as my pencil attempted to get them down on paper. Whatever is true, Mrs. Trimble is the only elementary teacher I recall with great fondness. I remember others by name, but she’s the one I recall with affection. With or without a face in mind.
2. Mrs. Rich — English teacher: First, she was my sixth grade Language Arts teacher. And then she moved to seventh grade as my English teacher. When she moved again to eighth grade, she convinced me to take her Reading class as an elective, even though it was designed for remedial students who needed extra instruction and I was already at an honors level. Just for me, she created a sort of individual reading lab where I had a class period every day for personal reading time. I was also able to use a machine that improved my reading speed. Throughout one semester I read more books and increased my skills more than ever before, and I credit my current abilities to that one class. And then Mrs. Rich moved up yet another grade with my class and taught freshman English. She introduced me to Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, of course) and to Lord of the Flies (which I had to read again during senior year after moving to a new school). Mrs. Rich encouraged me and pushed me to excel in the one area I had loved since my earliest years. Of all the teachers I’ve ever had, she’s the one I consider the best and my favorite.
3. my 8th grade English teacher, whose name I can’t recall: It wasn’t the teacher herself nor her class nor her instruction that makes me place her on this list. Instead, it was what she did at the end of the school year. I don’t remember learning much from her, and she didn’t impress me as a teacher. But she did take a portion of one semester to create a school newspaper, and each of her students was given an assignment for its content. By then, at the ripe old age of 14, I fancied myself an English scholar, so I expected to be assigned a reporter’s task. Instead, I was placed on a team for the crossword puzzle. I was irritated and mortified and pretty much wrote that teacher off as clueless. How could she not see my genius?! I was never so happy for a school year to end so that I could be rid of her class. But then, at the year-end awards ceremony, in front of the entire middle school, my name was called as the outstanding 8th grade English student of the year. Of all her students in all of her classes, she named me as the outstanding one. It didn’t really change my opinion of her instruction, but it did affirm my own abilities. And I had come to doubt myself a bit before that. With that renewed perspective, I also discovered a great love for journalism. Though I’d only been part of a crossword puzzle, I had seen all that goes into creating a newspaper. And during that semester I’d learned a bit about journalism in general. And I loved it. It was because of this nameless English teacher that I went on to take Journalism in my freshman year and that I joined yearbook staff during my sophomore year. It was because of that unexpected joy for writing that I discovered a true talent in myself and set out to major in journalism during college. Despite not following that dream to the end, I still credit that one semester in 8th grade and the teacher’s recognition of my abilities with making me the writer that I am today.
4. Coach Bellinghausen — 7th grade history: Before seventh grade I did not enjoy history. I also didn’t care a single bit for my home state of Texas. It meant nothing to me. But this coach made Texas history come alive like nothing I’d ever seen before. He had a true gift for making history relevant, and he had a gift for making it personal. I truly loved going to his class every day, and I looked forward to what I was going to learn there. And then, when my family took yet another trip to Austin to visit the Capitol and then to San Antonio to visit The Alamo, for the first time I understood the importance. And I could envision the people who had walked there before me. Coach Bellinghausen created in me a love of history that, little by little, increased over time. Thankfully, that love burrowed deep enough to not be crushed during the many years between 9th grade and college courses when one after another professor did their best to strangle any love I might have had for the subject. [Note to teachers: making students learn the names of battleships and exact dates of specific battles in multiple wars will only make their eyes glaze over and their hearts harden into bricks. Teach them the stories and introduce them to the people. That’s what they’ll come to love.] Fortunately, Coach B. was gifted in storytelling. Which made Texas history interesting. As did the educational film relating to the Battle of the Alamo in which actor A Martinez appeared before anyone really knew his name. I never forgot A Martinez, and I never forgot Coach Bellinghausen’s class. Note: The internet has finally caught up with my years of searching, as I think I just found that film. I wonder if what we saw in class was this 1982 American Playhouse production of Seguin? If so, how in the world could I not remember Edward James Olmos also appearing in the film? Apparently I was distracted by Martinez’s pretty face.
5. Coach Robertson — 8th grade and then 9th grade history: It wasn’t so much that this coach changed my life or made me love history any more than Coach B. Instead, it’s that Coach Robertson made an interesting impression upon me. My first class with him came during the year of the tv series Greatest American Hero. And at the time Coach looked like William Katt as that character. My dad thought it quite humorous that my history teacher was the Greatest American Hero, and he often quipped about how we could never be sure it wasn’t the same guy. We could never be sure that my teacher didn’t have a secret life involving tights and a cape. We look back on that series now and see how terribly cheesy it was, but at the time, when I was 13 years old and suddenly aware of cuteness in boys, I was quite crazy about William Katt as the Greatest American Hero. And so I was crazy about Coach Robertson. He was my first teacher-crush. It was short-lived, though. By freshman year I had come to see him as just another teacher. And 9th grade history was nothing more than the class where I met up with best friends Valerie and Lea for an hour of sharing conversations about the latest music by our favorites Adam Ant, David Bowie, and Duran Duran, respectively. Coach was simply the man at the desk by then. But he remains significant because of his appearance, and sometimes that’s just as good as anything I may have learned.
6. Margie Wilson — 10th grade English: We never called her Mrs. Wilson, except to her face, because there was a second Mrs. Wilson in our school who was also an English teacher. But that second Mrs. Wilson was known as Scary Jo. The beloved Mrs. Wilson was always Margie. It’s no coincidence that my favorite teachers have mostly been English instructors. That was my best subject. It was the subject I loved the most. And Margie Wilson is the one who taught me to love Shakespeare. I’d been introduced to his work the year before, prior to my family’s move from our hometown in Cedar Hill, but Romeo and Juliet didn’t create a true love within me. Instead, it was Julius Caesar that made me see the beauty of Shakespeare’s language and the depth of literature itself. In that class I read Steinbeck for the first time, and Arthur Miller, and To Kill A Mockingbird. And my reading life was changed forever. Margie Wilson taught me the importance of literature and not just reading for reading’s sake. Despite never being introduced to Austen, Brontë, or Great Expectations in my school years, the lessons learned in Margie Wilson’s class remain the greatest educational gift I’ve ever been given.
My Listography was inspired by the site of the same name and list-maker extraordinaire Andrea at hulaseventy.