Teachers see potential in all of us
I spoke recently at Bishop McGuinness High School at the invitation of Martha Lawrence, one of the English teachers there. We had a few moments to chat before my presentation, and of course we talked about our mutual love of reading and our favorite books and authors. Beyond that though, our conversation provided a refreshing reminder of how dedicated our teachers are, and how the enthusiasm of a teacher for the subject matter he or she is relaying to students can change that young mind forever. I’m a living example of that.
My third book, The Road to Devotion, is dedicated in part to my English teacher at Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Julie Wilson was the first teacher to introduce me to the great American writers; Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Wolfe. The passion with which she revealed to us the greatness of A Farewell to Arms, Tortilla Flat, and The Grapes of Wrath has stayed with me forever, and no doubt been one of the reasons I wanted to become a writer.
At Wake Forest University I distinctly remember Professor Gary Ljungquist brimming over with excitement as he extolled the virtues of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Heavy material, but he not only taught us to understand it, he taught us to love it. My English composition professor at Wake, William Moss, urged me to discover the great Irish poets and writers like James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, and I’m forever grateful for him guiding me toward such brilliance. He explained to me that their works are best consumed while sitting high on a hill in the Irish countryside, something I’ve yet to do. Add it to the bucket list.
My favorite author, Pat Conroy, often gave credit for his enormous literary success to his English teacher in South Carolina, Gene Norris. Conroy said of Norris, “my entire body of work is because of men and women like them. “ I can’t imagine higher praise for a teacher.
It is conversations with high school English teachers like Martha Lawrence that remind me of how important those instructors are to young and impressionable minds. They don’t usually receive the credit they deserve. (Nor the pay, but that’s another essay in itself.)
I am the only member of my family who was not a teacher. Perhaps there’s still time.